Code of Ethics Issues
According to “The Community Services Code of Ethics” the document is “a reflection of its Values Statement. The Code of Ethics is an attempt to make the Values Statement operational by defining general guidelines for conduct. Unless a code of ethics is based on a specific, identified set of values, it is an arbitrary imposition of rules of conduct” (Appendix A, p. 271). For agency and organization ethics, specificity is a necessity for several reasons. Clearly written guidelines place all members “on the same page” and prevent the excuses of a lack of knowledge or understanding. The guidelines taken in context also set the desired “tone” of the agency. The “Obedience to the Law” section of the Code prohibits any illegal activity. Of note is the inclusion of language regarding personal attitudes about any law. The section also states the position of changing “offending laws” via legislative or judicial means (p. 265). Finally while a code of ethics may promote civil disobedience of a legal sort, liability will attach if it advocates legal disobedience. The code must provide guidance in the often unclear relationship between ethical and legal behavior.
The Community Services Code provides guidance in several ways. It delineates sensitive legal areas with ethical components as well: “Commitment to Diversity”, “Discrimination and Harassment” and “Conflicts of Interest” to name several. It also covers a variety of personnel and employment issues. Staff and volunteers must be given information in the form of specific situations describing the potential conflict of what is or is not ethical versus what is or is not legal. As the Code clearly prohibits illegal activity, it just as clearly recognizes the individual may believe the law is unethical. The Code succinctly avoids the “ethical but legal” issue by stating the alternative action: change the law.
“Appendix A: The Community Services Code of Ethics (Adopted August 30, 1993).” Pages 265-273. Manning, Susan S. Ethical Leadership in Human Services: A Multidimensional Approach. Pearson, 2003.