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The Responsible Rebound

Corporate social responsibility – HR policy is the key

By Michal Bodziony – Junior Associate and Bartosz Wszeborowski – Advocate at PCS Paruch Chruściel Schiffter | Littler Global
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Employers are increasingly focusing on building and developing value-based businesses.

It shows that they are aware of the fact that being socially conscious not only has a significant impact on their company image but also gives economic benefits. The values upheld by a company may, in particular, be related to its activity profile – for example companies offering environmental solutions or products that will actively promote the idea of caring for the environment in the marketplace and among their employees. Also their universal values and attitudes should be evident. For example, international corporations build their image based on the development of a work environment that embraces multiculturalism and employee diversity in terms of their gender, religion or sexual orientation.

Promoting certain values in an effective and genuine manner requires commitment and understanding on the employees part, as well as consistency and accountability in everyday decision-making by these employees. Companies should not just pay lip-service but live and breathe their values every day.

Duty to comply with company values

Employers may require their employees to comply with company policy and values. For example, employers expect their employees to be open-minded and respect diversity. It is unacceptable for an employee to express views that may offend other employees and reduce their sense of security. In particular, employees must not express homophobic views that exclude others, even if they try to justify it on religious grounds.

Such an expectation is in line with an employer’s duty to establish the rules of social behaviour in the workplace and to clamp down on discrimination and other undesirable conduct at work. If an employee in their free time acts in a way that is contrary to company policy, and at the same time infringes the law (e.g. by inciting racial hatred), an appropriate response by the employer is not only justified, but also expected.

The employer may insist upon employees promoting and representing the company’s ideals and values, for example the environmentally friendly attitude mentioned above. Such an expectation is particularly justified in the case of managerial staff. Employees in such positions should exercise particular care for the employer’s workplace and business interest. They are the people who have most direct contact with the employer’s clients. What’s more, their position means that they should set an appropriate example for other employees.

The above also applies to employees who have revealed their place of employment on social media (such as LinkedIn or Facebook). Their actions may have an impact on the company’s image and thus harm both reputation and the legitimate interests of the company.

Freedom of speech is not always an excuse

An employee's actions which infringe upon company values may have far-reaching consequences, including, in some cases, termination of the employment contract. Employees can exercise their right to freedom of speech and belief, but they should do so in a respectful and lawful manner, not infringing upon the rights of other people, the legitimate interests of the employer, the rules of social conduct and generally accepted values. A blind eye cannot be turned to employees who insult other people on the grounds of their beliefs or undertake actions that harm the standing of their colleagues. Freedom of speech gives employees the opportunity to express their views freely, but it does not justify harassing, insulting or threatening people who hold different values. Especially when employees regularly participate in training sessions and workshops to help them understand and identify harassment or discriminatory behaviour.

The lack of an appropriate response from the employer to the employee’s unacceptable behaviour could mean, in particular, that the employer fails to fulfil the obligation mentioned above to stamp out discrimination in the workplace. The employer's action will be all the more justified when it comes as a response to reports and complaints received from other employees.

Moreover, if in such a situation the employer doesn’t take any action against the employee, it could mean that the employer fails to live by the values on which their brand is built. Lack of consistency in implementing branding strategy may have more adverse impact for an entrepreneur than taking actions which may be difficult but consistent with company identity and values. Especially if the employer’s image in the public’s perception is the result of a long and costly process of building the company’s brand. For example, if the company’s activities focus on ecology and environmental protection and an employee’s action poses a threat to natural environment and thus harms the employer’s image and reputation, then the employer has every reason to react.

Any person who decides to work for a company with a specific business profile or operates in a specific industry should be aware that it comes with certain obligations, such as the need to adopt an appropriate attitude and to comply with the established standards of behaviour. The employer has the right to expect that employees accept that obligations and be prepared to suffer consequences in the event of non-compliance with the established standards. The employer's right to clamp down on the unwanted employee behaviour is especially reinforced if employees are made aware of company values on a daily basis.

Internal regulations and policies

Employers who wish to ensure that their employees will not act contrary to company values should consider regulating this matter by way of internal regulations. These regulations should be formulated in such a way as to balance the employer’s interest and the employee’s freedom of expression. Each case of an employee’s breach of the regulations should be considered by the employer individually. This will increase employee awareness and help the employer to stamp out the undesirable behaviour. Employees are the foundation of every company and the most effective ambassadors of company values. Even best investments and social campaigns will not be successful if they are not approved and supported by employees.

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