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System Of Inquiry

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A system of inquiry is essential in any business setting to help companies with ethical issues. Many companies do have codes of ethics for management and employees to follow. However, many ethics codes address only certain behaviors by which employees are expected to abide. There are times when the current ethics codes may not completely address a situation. Having a system of inquiry will better help a company deal with those issues against, and within, the company. The system will also help companies to have a quarterly or yearly review of the process; this helps determine if revisions are needed in the process.

The basic component of the inquiry process would be in putting together a review or ethics panel of employees and managers. This panel would be comprised of people from different departments within the company. Some companies have a three-person panel, while others have up to seven persons on the panel. Many times, having the higher number to comprise a panel helps with a quorum in making decisions. Theses same employees will be well versed in all policies and procedures of the company. The panel members have more credibility by being knowledgeable in company procedures and policies.

There will be an air of fairness and impartiality from the board by having the panel comprised of various personnel. In addition, by having a mix of supervisors and employees, other employees will not have the impression that management is always against employees. Employees in the company do not need to know of whom the panel is comprised. By keeping the panel anonymous, this further ensures the impartiality and fairness of a decision given by the panel. This also helps to avoid anyone showing favoritism.

When an allegation of an ethics violation is brought forth, the allegation should be first brought to the attention of a supervisor. There may be times when it is unclear if there has been an ethics violation. The supervisor, who is to be well versed in the code of ethics, will determine if there is cause to pursue or dismiss the allegation. In times of an unclear situation, the supervisor will confer with his or her manager. If the supervisor or manager determines there has been a violation, it will be his or her responsibility to then complete an incident report. The supervisor is to include all details reported by the person giving the report. If necessary, the supervisor should question the person if a detail is unclear and needs further clarification.

Time frames must be set for making a complaint or reporting allegations of ethics violations. Information may change over time; memories may not clearly recall details, and documents might be lost. Having a time frame to file complaints helps to keep the information clean. The City of Sugar Land, Texas (2005) sets a filing deadline of “the 365th day after the date the violation is alleged to have occurred or the 90th day after the violation was discovered, whichever date is earlier.” It is possible that some violations are committed and no one is aware of the violation until a later time. However, this does not excuse an employee from reporting the violation.

If the supervisor is the person aware of a breach in policy, he or she will complete the report. However, the supervisor will make his or her manager aware of the allegation. There may be times when a person making the report is uncomfortable going to a supervisor. In such cases, he or she can go to the Human Resources department. In the case of Realogy (2006), a real estate company, employees can call a Code of Ethics Line to report the incident. The Code of Ethics Line is comprised of people who are not employees of Realogy thereby even further ensuring impartiality and fairness.

Whether it is another employee or a supervisor, either person should also have documentation, if possible, to substantiate his or her claim. This can be achieved by such things as bringing forth other employees who witnessed the incident to documents. Examples of documents might be falsified overtime sheets or doctors statements. By requesting these items, this will help to avoid disgruntled employees and management from bringing claims against others for no other reason than not liking a person. If other personnel witnessed the alleged complaint, their statements will be recorded as well.

The company should also devise a system of numbering the incidents. This numbering system further ensures confidentiality. Whatever the incident or violation, it is not for the entire company to know what is happening. Confidentiality and privacy is always important to maintain good business relations within any company. Should a confidence be breached, then trust is also broken between manager and employee.

Once the report has been filed, the supervisor then contacts the person named as violating an ethics code. The supervisor will then talk with the employee to make him or her aware of the situation and the complaint against said person. The employee at that time should complete his or her own report of the event. If the employee has documentation or witnesses to corroborate his or her version of events, such information must be listed at that time. Again, the witnesses listed will be contacted for their statements.

Both the report of the complainant and the defendant will then be forwarded to the ethics/review panel. The panel will convene to review the statements, witness statements and any documentation submitted. Upon initial review, the review committee should be able to determine whether to proceed with the ethics violation charges. Should the panel have any questions or need further clarifications, the panel will submit their questions in writing to the person in question. In addition, there may be times when a bit of information may not have been correctly recorded or inadvertently omitted. While this approach does appear as delaying the process, it also helps to show that the panel is not making snap judgments. This process will also demonstrate that the panel gave the incident much thought before making a final decision.

It is important that any questioning by the panel be done in a timely manner. This applies to responses as well. If an extended period of time is taken before answering the panel, this time could be viewed as stalling. With timely responses however, either side is showing that he or she stands by what was initially reported or stated. Unnecessary delays by the panel could be viewed as the panel not being fully prepared or not being versed in policies and procedures.

Occasionally there will be times when the panel has a question about the legality of a procedure. At this time the panel will then confer with the company’s attorneys for legal advice. The panel may even need additional personnel for assistance with procedures or recording the meeting.



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