The following is the second in a series of four articles written by Tara Nurin exclusively for ProBrewer. Visit the ProBrewer Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion resource page here for additional DEI articles and resources.
Writing a code of conduct for your business is easier than you think. Thanks to the ready availability of free online guides, templates and examples, you can probably draft a decent one in just a few hours.
It’s worth taking the time. A code of conduct comprises one of the most fundamental and effective ways for an employer to prevent discrimination, harassment and abusive behavior. By establishing clear standards and consequences, a strong code can eliminate confusion, discomfort, lost productivity, unnecessary turnover and costly lawsuits.
Here’s what you need to know to develop yours.
1) Include the code in your onboarding process
Ideally, an employee code of conduct belongs in an employee handbook. If you don’t have one, your code can serve as a binding contract, once all relevant parties sign it.
The PeopleGoal human resources platform writes that a code is, “A legal document that outlines a set of correct behaviors individuals need to follow towards others and the organization as a whole … and a set of standard social norms, regulations and responsibilities of each individual in the company.”
“Under that guise,” says Aaron Peskin, attorney for Philly Loves Beer, the organization responsible for Philly Beer Week, “an employee code of conduct serves as a basis to terminate employees for cause should they violate that code. It also serves to potentially insulate employers from liability should they have effective reporting and investigation mechanisms in place to prevent the sort of conduct that the code prohibits.”
For instance, employers in legal marijuana states can bar workers from showing up stoned — under one condition.
“You can still prohibit drug use during their shift or when they are on call for work, if you have a policy in place in your employee handbook,” writes Lance CPA Group, which advises small breweries on tax and employment issues.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, a code of conduct is not the same as a code of ethics. A code of ethics acts as a high-level set of principles that might do nothing more than reflect applicable laws and industry regulations. A code of conduct delves much deeper to specify exactly what the company expects of its stakeholders.
The Houston Chronicle explains, by example, “Where the code of ethics might state that all employees must obey all safety protocols, a code of conduct explains the distance from an oxygen tank employees are allowed to smoke.”
If you’re using a code of conduct in place of or in addition to an employee handbook, include a disclaimer that keeps the signee from construing it as a guarantee of employment.
In an article in Craft Brewing Business, Todd Frederickson and Fisher Phillips recommend this language: “Nothing in this handbook or any other policy, procedure or practice of the company is intended to create an expressed or implied contract, guarantee, promise or covenant of any type. Employment at the company is at will, which means that it may be terminated by the employee or the company at any time without notice, cause or any specific procedures.”
2) Specify policies and procedures for violations
A code of conduct is only as effective as its consequences.
Put a stop to that and insulate yourself from liability by delineating the process for investigating complaints and taking corrective or disciplinary action.
“Thanks to your clearly outlined policy … you are well protected against a wrongful termination lawsuit,” writes Lance CPA. “You can prove they had knowledge of the policy because they signed a copy.”
That said, Frederickson and Phillips caution brewery owners to omit certain words that may make it more difficult to use a signed code of conduct as a defense. They write, “Cause — This is inconsistent with at-will employment and can get you sued for breach of contract. Progressive discipline — This is really a union employer concept and can require you to follow certain steps before you fire an employee. You should practice, but not preach (publish), a policy of progressive discipline.”
3) Be specific
“Vague codes of conduct spelling out company values, but not specifically stating what should and should not be done are not worth a lot,” Peskin says.
So when he drew up a code of conduct for Philly Loves Beer board members and event hosts, sponsors and participants in the days after Massachusetts brewer Brienne Allan launched craft brewing’s #MeToo movement by sharing hundreds of allegations of impropriety submitted to her on Instagram, he explicitly spelled out what activities would not be tolerated.
It reads, “Harassment, bullying and discrimination can take many forms, including, but not limited to, unwelcome, offensive, or derogatory words, gestures, jokes, pranks, teasing, pictures, photos, recordings, materials, postings, ogling, stalking, intimidation, physical contact, advances, propositions, threats, or violence.”
PepsiCo does the same in its code of conduct.
“What is Sexual Harassment?” it asks.
It answers, in four easy-to-read bullet points.
“Sexual harassment may consist of verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is unwelcome and that a reasonable person would find offensive. It can take many forms, such as:
• Sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or unwelcome demands for dates.
• Sexually oriented jokes, pictures, texts or email messages.
• Explicit or degrading comments about appearance.
• Display of sexually suggestive pictures or pornography.
Similarly, IKEA’s supplier agreement contains a glossary designed to avoid misunderstandings.
“Discrimination,” it says, “occurs when a person is treated less favourably than another in a comparable situation on grounds that are not related to their capability to do the job. Grounds for discrimination include: age, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, ethnicity, nationality, religion, marital or family status or any other dimension of a person’s identity…”
Peskin says, “I’d venture to say that a lot of breweries named by Brienne likely had codes of conduct that said something along the lines of ‘harassment will not be tolerated’ without going into what exactly constitutes harassment. That’s a recipe for disaster.”
4) Consider a Code for Your Patrons
Extend your employee protections to your taproom by publicly posting a patron code of conduct that communicates your expectations for them, as well.
Wallace says, “We have always been telling the guests that the customer is always right and that has allowed them to feel empowered to make inappropriate comments and harass other guests and staff. I think that by showing your team that you are willing to stand up for and protect them if they feel uncomfortable is huge to them.”
Start off your statement by assuring patrons that you welcome them regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, health, religion, age or disability. Then warn them that you won’t tolerate any offensive activities or statements and explain what will happen if they behave badly. .
A British project called The Everyone Welcome Initiative encourages beer-serving spots to use phrases like, “Customers engaging in conversations that involve derogatory comments or words and phrases that we feel are discriminatory, or that make our other clientele or staff uncomfortable, will be warned once, if it continues you will be asked to leave.”
This follows with, “Any and all discriminatory comments made to the staff/volunteers in this venue will result in immediate removal from the site and a possible life ban.”
Wallace, who notes it’s important to convey a way for patrons to disclose complaints , doesn’t care if it costs her a customer or two. She believes she keeps a valuable team member and three quality consumers every time she tosses out one who’s acting offensive.
She says, “If a great guest constantly sees bad behavior in the place, they will stop coming. So I would rather get rid of one to make more people feel welcome and comfortable.”