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MANAGING BEST PRACTICES: The corporate ethics eruption

February 20, 2007
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New and expanded requirements found in laws such as the federal False Claims Act, the Deficit Reduction Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are pushing companies, both public and private, to build and enforce ethics into all aspects of their business.

Effective January 1, 2007, for example, the Deficit Reduction Act required all healthcare businesses that receive or make at least $5 million a year in Medicaid payments to educate all employees on how to detect fraud, waste and abuse. Healthcare employers must also establish policies to ensure that their contractors investigate and report abuse. The new law will impact many hospitals and spill over into other businesses such as pharmacies, health maintenance organizations, physician groups, and drug manufacturers. Other business areas, including workers’ compensation for workplace injury or illness, will feel the effect of this new law.

Healthcare employees must also be informed by their employer that they will be protected against retaliation through whistleblower protections, and the employee may be entitled to a share of the money recovered by the government.


Expand what you’ve learned

There is an opportunity to expand what you’ve learned and applied as an EHS pro into the broader area of corporate compliance and ethics. It appears that jobs as “ethics officers” or similar titles are plentiful and growing. The job profile and value to a company is high. And salaries are reported to be high, too.

While enforcement of business ethics has been primarily fueled by accounting irregularities by high-profile firms, business ethics is expanding to other activities, including environmental health and safety and corporate social responsibility.

Associations have been set up in the past several years to support the needs and community of employees with ethics responsibilities. The Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (www.corporatecompliance.org) is one example. The SCCE sponsors the Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional (CCEP) certification exam. Among the choices for “primary function” in the SCCE’s brochure for membership application is a box for “Environmental” and another box for “Safety.”

Know your codes

Do you always act ethically in your EHS capacity? To correctly answer this question, you must understand the code of ethics to the organizations to which you belong.

Effective January 1, 2007, the Board of Certified Safety Professionals considered it unethical for Certified Safety Professionals to promote themselves using a degree from a diploma mill or similar entity. The BCSP has defined how enforcement actions will be carried out for this ethics issue.

In December 2006, four professional industrial hygiene groups jointly announced to their stakeholders that a new enforceable Code of Ethics was being developed.

Acting ethically yourself is not enough. You should also encourage peers and others inside and outside your organization to act ethically. As noted, new laws and guidelines are pushing employers to ensure ethical actions throughout their organizations and their supply chains.

One way to think ethically is to become more skeptical and inquisitive of what goes on around you. If something doesn’t seem right, chances are there has been a slip in ethics. And remember that anyone, regardless of their position or standing in the business or community, may have ethical lapses.

Getting feedback on your actions is also important in guiding ethical behavior because it is too easy to rationalize that you did the right thing or didn’t do the wrong thing.

Why should you care about ethics beyond your personal actions? To improve EHS, and the growing corporate social responsibility movement, we should advocate best practices, not just minimal compliance with laws. Plus, the growing transparency of business practices along with globalization and the speed of information allows consumers to be more aware of the ethics of those who provide goods and services. For decades it’s been said that EHS pros often act as the “conscience” of organizations. Now, with many organizations more introspective and reflective about behavior and responsibilities than ever, it’s time to put that conscience to new and expanded use.

SIDEBAR: Online sources for ethics

http://whistleblowerlaws.com/law.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics
http://www.ethics.org
http://www.cdc.gov/od/ohs/SAFETY/ethics_files/frame.htm

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