Code of conduct elevates HR profession (Guest commentary)

HRPA’s new code ‘significant step forward’ in professionalization of human resources
By Angus Duff
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/13/2009

I was speaking with someone the other day about the human resources manager at her workplace and was surprised by her description. The employee raised concerns about the HR manager’s choice of dress, with low-cut, revealing tops, too-short miniskirts and high heels.

She went on to say the HR manager was known to be the “life of the party” at Christmas events and the like, apparently over-indulging in the festivities. Most concerning, the HR manager has been known to make insensitive and inappropriate remarks in the workplace, said the employee.

While I suspect this situation is rare, it leads me to ask the question: “Is HR living the values the human resources function represents?” Or, in the name of “partnership with the business,” have some HR professionals embraced their corporate culture, even if it flies in the face of creating an equitable and inclusive workplace?

Is it time we summarize the role of HR as the ambassador of human and organizational values? We may need to remind the few bad apples that when HR representatives compromise this role, human resources returns to the administrative abyss from which it has been trying to escape for the last 30 years. Perhaps it is time for the HR profession to operate under a code of conduct.

The good news, as was mentioned in the March 9, 2009, issue of Canadian HR Reporter, is the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) has implemented a new code of conduct in Ontario that took effect June 1, 2009. It incorporates a code of ethics providing a clear and uncompromising synopsis of the requirements for members. With the addition of the code of ethics, two key sections are included: “Dignity in the Workplace” and “Balancing Interests.” These sections outline the role of HR to balance individual and organizational interests and state HR must act in a manner that champions values in the workplace. This marks a significant step forward in the professionalization of HR.

Here is a summary of these sections of the code:

Dignity in the workplace: The code of ethics states HR practitioners are required to act in ways that respect and further the rights and dignity of all individuals, and develop policies and practices that support this. Work is acknowledged to have a psychological and physical impact on workers, and the actions of HR practitioners should protect workers on both of these levels. HR practitioners will not participate or condone any activities that threaten the rights and dignity of workers, including harassment, intimidation, physical or psychological violence, acts of discrimination of any form and sexual impropriety. The act also includes a provision requiring HR practitioners to notify the HRPA of any HR professionals whose conduct is in violation of these.

Balancing interests: The code of ethics states HR must balance the needs of organizational and individual employee concerns in the workplace. It goes further to remind HR practitioners they have a duty to parties other than their employer, specifically employees. This duty is similar to a civil servant, who is employed by a city or town, but has a duty to the citizens of the community impacted by their work.

The code of ethics marks an important development for human resources as a profession, in reminding HR practitioners of their role as the voice and face of employee values in the workplace. It reminds HR practitioners these are not “nice to haves” in the support of business but “must haves” that define the specific contribution made by HR practitioners to organizations. HR practitioners who compromise on these are like accounting professionals who compromise on the integrity of financial reporting. The new code of ethics may act as a wake-up call for some HR practitioners to consider enrolling in sensitivity training, rather than merely recommending such courses to their clients.

The new HRPA code of conduct is available for review and download at the HRPA’s website at

Angus Duff is a PhD student in human resources management at York University’s School of Human Resources in Toronto. He can be reached at

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