Ethical Culture at Work Goes Beyond Committing to Compliance

Are you committed to an ethical culture? If so, here are ways to show that you mean it through compliance with regulations.

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Are you committed to an ethical company culture? If so, here’s how to exemplify it through compliance

Here's what you need to know:

  • Use compliance with Title VII as a baseline for building an ethical culture. Develop a clear, personal understanding of its stance against all types of discrimination
  • Help pregnant women feel more comfortable by supporting accommodations like time off for doctor’s appointments and a comfortable lactation space
  • Make your job Make your job application process accessible, including for blind or low-vision individuals, and use inclusive communication tools process accessible, including for blind or low-vision individuals, and use inclusive communication tools
  • Be proactive in combating age discrimination by reviewing your application process and digital presence
  • Support a positive workplace by being clear about dangers, having documented security procedures in place, and requiring safety training

Creating an ethical culture in the workplace involves more than just complying — it’s about attitude. Being sensitive to compliance issues about discrimination says your business is a harassment-free environment with ethical values. It shows you take accusations of reported misconduct seriously and are committed to a diverse workforce.

What does an ethical culture look like?

Workplace culture is a difficult concept to measure. It’s so much more than codes and literature disseminated by senior management and HR professionals — it’s the way things really work. It’s the organizational culture and nitty gritty of the everyday environment. It includes how employees dress, how they work with customers, how they interact with each other. Perhaps most importantly, culture is defined by employee relationships with lower, mid and top management.

An ethical culture is about creating and adhering to ethical principles within your company. With these principles implemented, employees feel heard, seen, valued, and respected for who they are as human beings. Employees should also be able to recognize how they contribute positively to the company – beyond just the yearly performance evaluations.

An ethical culture provides accessible ethics training and clear guidelines on ethical standards. These standards apply with equity to every single member of the company. Systemic barriers preventing equity are broken down (or, ideally, never built).

Why is ethical culture important?

Ethical leaders who put the fair treatment and the best interest of their employees before financial gain may seem to have a lofty ethical perspective. However, statistics show that it’s a shrewd business move. Ethical conduct not only leads to ethical outcomes, but also greater business success!

In 2018, Fortune Magazine found that publicly-held companies that appear on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list delivered stock returns 2 to 3 times greater than major stock indices. These companies that work to build and sustain an ethical workplace are more financially successful and have more productive workers with higher employee morale.

Smart small business owners make a commitment to be compliant and avoid unethical practices. They also share the core values, attitudes, beliefs, language, and ethical behavior of their company culture. Ethical workplace culture drives good business, and it rests on a foundation of compliance.

5 ways to exemplify ethical culture through compliance

Discrimination in the workplace is governed by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Compliance programs are essential for regulating organizational behavior and legally protecting workers.


However, business owners, management, and HR professionals need to have a personal interest in the practical implementation of ethical nuances beyond just legal compliance.

Here are some legal organizational codes and standards that apply to the workplace to prevent illegal discrimination and unethical behavior. We also provide some tips on how you can go the extra mile to send a positive message of inclusion.

1. Title VII

Passed in 1964, Title VII bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Sexual harassment falls under Title VII because it’s discrimination based on sex. Use compliance with Title VII as a baseline to build an ethical culture with a clear stance against all types of discrimination.

Only 6 states mandate anti-harassment training by both public and private employers (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York). However, small business owners can illustrate their position on discrimination and harassment by requiring training sessions for all employees. Also, make resources for ongoing training known and available. Have a clear, no-tolerance policy in place for discrimination. Provide company resources and procedures for employees to report unethical behavior, share complaints, and find support for ethical dilemmas.

2. Pregnancy Discrimination Act and FMLA

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bars discrimination based on pregnancy, and the Family Medical Leave Act guarantees job-protected leave and continuation of healthcare. Small business owners can go above these compliance requirements to shape an inclusive workplace and ethical culture in a few ways:

  • Help pregnant women feel more comfortable in the workplace by explicitly supporting accommodations like time off for doctor’s appointments
  • Make sure you have a plan in place pre- and post-maternity leave
  • Provide a comfortable lactation space where new mothers can relax while pumping. Companies are required to provide lactation spaces. Offering amenities to create a tranquil place beyond what’s required by law is an easy way to support mothers

3. Americans with Disabilities Act

ADA stipulates that employers are responsible for making reasonable accommodations to those with disabilities.

Employers can foster inclusive workspaces for all by taking small steps. For example, they can make their job application process accessible, including for blind or low-vision individuals, and use inclusive communication tools, like intraoffice messengers with accessibility settings.

4. Age Discrimination Employment Act

Creating an ethical workplace goes beyond just the physical workplace – it also encompasses digital ethical behavior. Check out your website and social media accounts. Do you display only younger workers? 

Be proactive in combating age discrimination by reviewing your application process and digital presence. Watch out for words like “digital natives” and dropdown menus for birth dates on online applications which don’t go beyond 1980.

Ageism is illegal — but it also can be a missed business opportunity. Mid-career individuals are loyal, have decades of experience, and usually want to share their knowledge and expertise.

Organize a mentorship program between the various generations at your small or medium-sized business. This can help engage workers and foster collaboration between the various age groups.

5. Occupational Safety Hazards Act (OSHA)

OSHA says that workers have the right to a safe workplace, free from known dangers and serious hazards. The specific requirements vary by industry. Small business owners can support a + by being clear about dangers. They also should have documented security procedures in place and require safety training.

For office workers, small business owners might consider subsidizing ergonomic modifications that employees request. Computer work is hard on the body, and providing standing desks, specialized chairs, and trackball mice are ways to help combat repeated strain injuries.

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