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6 Guidelines for HR Teams

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Today's human resources professionals are managing more moral, ethical and legal responsibilities than ever before.

Beyond compensation and benefits, HR teams are now charged with addressing challenges such as promoting diversity in the workforce, addressing inequality issues and setting standards for workplace conduct. Often, ethical HR policies regarding these issues can have a direct impact on how a company attracts and retains talent. According to a recent report, for example, 79% of U.S. workers said they would not accept a position with a higher salary at a company that did not take action in cases of sexual harassment. While conversations about HR ethics that challenge the status quo in the workplace are marks of progress, they require HR departments to make tough ethical decisions.

Acting as the moral heart of a company can seem like an overwhelming task. But regardless of the issue, HR professionals who uphold high ethical standards and strive to create a fair work environment will retain employee trust and attract new candidates. Here are six HR ethics guidelines that organizations can follow to master the art of ethical decision-making and become a valuable resource for their employees.

Know the laws
As representatives of an organization, HR professionals must make tough decisions and hold employees accountable for wrongful actions - and that's no easy task. To do so effectively, you need confidence and authority. Knowing key labor laws and compliance practices will help manage these issues when they arise, rather than after the fact.

For example, if an employee applies for short-term disability, you'll need to understand your benefits provider's short-term disability policy and eligibility. You will also need to know the insurance laws and explain them to your employee. Familiarizing yourself with these laws early on will save you time and give you the knowledge you need to meet legal challenges in the future.

Focus on professional development
HR is an ever-changing field, especially as new conversations arise and technology continues to change the way we work. Staying on top of these changes requires acquiring a new set of skills and knowledge. Participating in training is one way to stay on the cutting edge.

Many HR professionals also pursue higher education and obtain certifications specific to their field. Some become specialists in a particular area, such as payroll, recruiting or benefits. Others, such as HR generalists who have a broader set of responsibilities, may choose to continue their professional development through workshops and continuing education. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. HR professionals, especially those new to the industry, should assess their progress and consult with their managers to find a career path that works for them.

Be an ethical HR leader
Conflicts between colleagues are inevitable in the workplace. Imagine, for example, that an employee tells you that his or her manager, a high-level executive, has treated him or her unfairly. Such a situation requires you to engage in difficult conversations with everyone involved. Being an ethical HR manager means being confident in your moral decisions and communicating them effectively to employees. And, according to the Josephson Institute of Ethics at UC San Diego, making an ethical decision requires three things:

Commitment: "The desire to do the right thing, no matter what the cost."
Conscientiousness: "The awareness of acting consistently and applying moral beliefs to everyday behavior."
Competence: "The ability to gather and evaluate information, develop alternatives, and anticipate potential consequences and risks."

Understanding where you and your organization stand on important issues will be essential in this process. Once you define these ethical standards, you can determine how to respond to any human resources ethics issues - and maintain the trust and respect of your employees.

Understand conflicts of interest
Conflicts of interest are detrimental to a company's operation because they create internal politics that distract from the company's bottom line and lead to a deterioration in the quality of work. Take the example of favoritism, which is the practice of giving preferential treatment to certain employees. It is not illegal to engage in favoritism unless, in doing so, you are discriminating against someone else on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or other protected class. If you can't change the law, you can put in place company policies that prohibit this behavior.

One way to establish these policies is to update your employee handbook to define and discourage conflicts of interest - your employees may be engaging in this behavior without realizing it. In the case of favoritism, according to the employment law manual, the first step is to distinguish between favoritism and fair recognition based on measurable performance. Once you have written standards in place, be sure to also determine the consequences for employees who do not follow the rules.

Implement diversity and inclusion practices
Today, discussions of diversity often focus on recruitment efforts based on race, class and gender. While these considerations are important, they are only one piece of the diversity and inclusion puzzle.

According to Damien Hooper-Campbell, Ebay's chief diversity officer, diversity is about giving people a sense of belonging. During his interactive session at First Round Capital's Summit conference, Hooper-Campbell used the metaphor of a school dance. Everyone is invited to the dance, he said, but only the jocks dance.

"If diversity is invited to the dance, inclusion is invited to the dance," he said. A company can recruit and hire a diverse workforce, but if only certain groups of people feel valued and included, there's a problem.

By working with colleagues to develop a list of company values and morals, HR professionals set the standard for diversity and inclusion in their organization. This list will help professionals focus on what is important to their organization and empower employees.

Keep information confidential
From social security numbers to medical records, HR professionals have access to a lot of confidential employee information. By ensuring that documents and electronic systems are secure, you can be sure that your company's information is protected.

As an HR professional, you also have a legal obligation to keep everything an employee tells you confidential, unless otherwise specified or discussed. For example, if an employee comes to you with concerns about a co-worker or tells you that they have witnessed sexist or racist behavior in the office, it is your responsibility to handle that information without revealing your sources.

While HR professionals face a number of obstacles that can make their job difficult, it can also be just as rewarding. After all, HR professionals make a company meaningful by improving and enhancing the employee experience. Once you address the ethical challenges of this job, you'll be able to effectively attract and retain a talented workforce.

Looking for an organized way to manage HR activities? Take a look at IceHrm. Click here to enjoy their 45 days of free trial.

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