Professional standards: What is the purpose of a code of ethics?

Just turn on the television and watch one of the many shows taking place in a hospital and you’re sure to hear about a doctor’s code of ethics. What's the purpose of a code of ethics? What does it consist of exactly? In addition to medicine, are there other professions governed by a code of ethics? Here are the answers to all those questions.

Professional standards: What is the purpose of a code of ethics?

What is the purpose of a code of ethics?

A code of ethics is usually established by a professional order as a way to protect the public and the reputation of the professionals. Indeed, people who breach their code of ethics incur disciplinary actions that can range from a warning or reprimand to dismissal or expulsion from their professional order.

What is a code of ethics?

The word "ethics" comes from a Greek term meaning "duty". Thus, a code of ethics consists of all the obligations that professionals must respect when carrying out their duties. It includes the core values of the profession and the behaviour which should be adopted; it's a code of professional conduct. Here are some examples.

  • A code of ethics and conduct in financial planning stipulates that financial planners should clearly explain to their clients all the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed plan. If the information they give is incomplete (for example, if they don’t mention the disadvantages), financial planners may be subject to sanctions.
  • Confidentiality and professional secrecy are obligations contained in the code of ethics and conduct of several professions, such as doctors, lawyers, psychologists, journalists and accountants.

Who is a code of ethics for?

A code of ethics governs certain professions, but it can also simply be a workplace policy, as is the one in place for public service employees. A code can also be more encompassing and govern all professions in a particular employment sector, as in business, for example. A code of ethics is required by law in some cases, but more and more organizations and enterprises are developing their own codes as a way to communicate their values to employees.

In case of infringement

Do you think you’re a victim of ethical misconduct? Did a a professional commit an offence towards you? Did a person of authority behave inappropriately towards you? You can complain to the order governing this person’s profession. Disciplinary sanctions are of a professional nature and do not replace legal proceedings. In other words, you can also file a civil or criminal complaint when appropriate.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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