Resources: Blog

“Oh Behave! : What is a workplace Code of Conduct?”


Does something like promoting equality have its place in a Code of Conduct?

Google’s much-publicised decision to dismiss an employee in America who wrote an internal memo to all staff criticising the tech company’s diversity policies has highlighted the necessity of a workplace Code of Conduct.

At Workplace Law, we work with our clients to help them establish a set of workplace values and a Code of Conduct to set the standards expected from all employees.

Google’s much-publicised decision to dismiss an employee in America who wrote an internal memo to all staff criticising the tech company’s diversity policies has highlighted the necessity of a workplace Code of Conduct. The memo accused Google of silencing conservative political opinions and shared the employee’s own opinion on gender stereotypes.

In an official statement released to all staff, Google stated that the decision to terminate the employee was because the employee “violate[d] our Code of Conduct and cross[ed] the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes.”

From a workplace relations point of view, it encourages an interesting discourse on what a business’ Code of Conduct should be and what it should seek to regulate – does something like promoting equality have its place in a Code of Conduct?


What is the Code?

A Code of Conduct is essentially a document that establishes behavioural and ethical standards for employees in a particular workplace and confirms the business’ official position on a range of issues.

For example, a Code of Conduct might have policies on:

  • Employee (including management) treatment of other employees and the business’ clients;
  • Business ethics and conflicts of interest;
  • Drug and alcohol use;
  • Internet and email use;
  • Confidential information;
  • Quality of work;
  • Dress codes; and
  • Health and safety.

A Code of Conduct should also outline that breaches of the Code may result in disciplinary action.


Adding “value” to the Code

Some workplaces may even take this a step further and incorporate an expectation that employees will uphold the business’ values in their day to day work. And whilst this is a very well-intentioned prerogative, the problem that an employer might face – and certainly Google did face this – is that sometimes an employee’s personal values do not completely align with those of the business.

For that reason, a Code of Conduct should be well drafted to ensure that they unequivocally state the employer’s position and that employees will be expected to conduct themselves, whilst in the workplace, within an acceptable behavioural framework. The goals are not to silence an employee’s opinion but rather to ensure that all employee’s clearly understand what is expected of them in terms of their behaviour and conduct when presenting as a representative of the employer, that the workplace remains a safe environment for all employees and is free from prohibited behaviour and, that an employee’s unique personal opinions are not linked to the employer in any way.

These types of documents should be provided to, and discussed with, new and current employees to ensure that they are aware of the standards they are expected to meet in the workplace. If and when an employee breaches the Code, the employer is then in a much better position to handle the issue and minimise the possibility of the conduct or behaviour evolving into a much bigger problem.

Of course, as a business grows and develops, so will its policies, so there should also be a system in place that allows for a regular review and update to ensure policies are meeting the desired standards.


Finally …

Aside from providing a regulatory structure for the workplace, a Code of Conduct also has a particular importance in establishing the culture of the workplace. The way this document is drafted and implemented by management is not only an indication to employees of the standards of the work environment, but it also speaks volumes to clients and the public about the way the business operates.


Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog, or from links on this website to any external website. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.


Similar articles

Fair Work Commission upholds dismissal of an employee who misused a company coffee account

Caffeine Hit

Financial misconduct committed by an employee can fundamentally damage the trust and confidence in an employment relationship. Unfortunately, financial misconduct is a common issue for Australian businesses and if it is not dealt with promptly and effectively, there is an opportunity for further misadventure.


FWC upholds dismissal of an employee who repeatedly and deliberately accessed customer’s confidential information without authorisation

Celebrity search

During the course of their employment, employees may have access to confidential information which belongs to their employer. This information may be in the form of personal information provided by customers and is therefore sensitive in nature.


Commission orders parties to stop yelling in the workplace

Quiet, please

The Fair Work Commission recently issued interim orders in an application for orders to stop bullying, which required the parties to, amongst other things, treat each other with respect and dignity, and to not yell in an unreasonable manner.


Commission orders employer to pay compensation as a result of its procedurally unfair disciplinary process

Procedurally disastrous

When investigating allegations of misconduct against an employee in the workplace, employers must ensure that any ensuing disciplinary process is kept distinct from and separate to from the investigation.


The importance of WHS refresher training

Not a “one and done” thing

It is an expected and necessary part of work health and safety (WHS) plans that all new workers receive relevant WHS training.


Casual Terms Award Review 2021


In March 2021, the casual employment amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) introduced a new statutory definition of “casual employee” and an entitlement to casual conversion as one of the National Employment Standards (NES).


Let's talk

please contact our directors to discuss how ouR expertise can help your business.

We're here to help

Contact Us
Let Workplace Law become your partner in Workplace Relations.

Signup to receive the latest industry updates with commentary from the Workplace Law team direct to you inbox.