It seems like every other day another scandal hits the news and ethics are called into question.

Last week, dozens of individuals were charged and arrested for participating in a college admissions scam. Parents paid thousands of dollars to have some part of their children’s college admission falsified. There were two main ways the fraud was done, which were all directed by the CEO of a college admissions prep company. The first was to pay someone else to take either the SAT or ACT exam at one of two locations where the proctors were bribed. The second scam was to get the children accepted into schools with fake athletic credentials and to bribe athletic coaches.

This scam crossed state lines and involved many people from multiple organizations. While money and wealth can influence almost anyone to make some dubious decisions, accepting bribes is always ethically wrong. HR should play an active role in mitigating the risk and be an ethical agent. SHRM advises to be an ethical agent, HR must promote core values, integrity, and accountability by maintaining professional and personal integrity within themselves.

HR Creating a Culture of Ethics

The first step is creating a culture that promotes ethical behavior and encourages people to do the right thing. There needs to be clearly defined values and standards that are rooted in business practices. Employees should also believe they can speak out about ethical issues without fear of retaliation or shaming.

Once the foundation of the ethical culture is established, it has to be supported and nurtured so it can be embodied within the workforce. Creating clear policies that outline what is ethically unacceptable is important. The policies set the basis and give employees something to reference when faced with an ethical situation. For example, accepting gifts is always a grey area when it comes to ethics. Having clear guidelines about what can and can not be accepted will take the pressure off the employee to make the decision.

Policies won’t be effective, though, without training and awareness. Employees need to know where to access the policies, what they mean, and when to use them. New hires should be trained initially upon entering the company and all employees should receive refreshers. The best training will provide situational-based questions or branching scenarios. This will give real-world examples that are more impactful for knowledge retention.

HR can also support an ethical workplace by hiring the right talent. Behavioral-based interview questions can give insight into how a candidate would handle an ethical dilemma. Thorough background checks can also help. Double-checking the information provided on a resume or calling references can help determine if the candidate is honest.

It’s nearly impossible to a completely ethical and morally sound organization. Both can be grey areas that can be difficult to navigate and the right choices can be subjective. But HR can make it easier for employees to do the right thing. By creating an ethical culture, supported by clear policies and effective training, a situation like the college admissions scam can be avoided.

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