Code of ethics violations are difficult situations to handle because they are not always obvious, and accusations of ethics violations often walk a fine line that can divide companies. When you begin working at a new company that has an ethics policy in place, it's essential that you understand where that fine line is so that you can make informed decisions when you encounter potential violations. But too many people skim over ethics policies, getting the basics but not really delving into how the policy might affect their actions. You've got to start looking at that policy right away and ensuring that the company helps you understand it.
This is such a simple step, and so many people avoid it. Read the actual policy. Don't just look at the table of contents or at section headers, but sit down and set aside time to read through the whole policy. With any luck, the policy will be blessedly short, but even if it's contained in a booklet, you have to familiarize yourself with all of it. If you just skim it, you could run into a situation where an action that seems harmless to you is actually in violation of the policy.
Make Notes When You Read
As you read it, take notes. Treat it like a high school or college reading assignment and highlight points as you go along. Note which points confuse you. If there is a Q&A section with examples of situations that do and do not violate the policy, try and think of situations that you've been in that could be similar. Note these examples as well.
If you're reading a policy for a company based overseas, another point to note is anything that could entail cultural differences. For example, what might be considered appropriate in a British company could be inappropriate in an American company and vice versa. You must be sure whether that issue applies only to people in the company's home country or to all employees regardless of location.
Meet With the Company Specifically to Talk About Your Notes
Get those questions answered and ask about the examples from your own life that you wrote down. If a representative can't meet with you in person (they can be very busy, of course), send an email and be sure you follow up. Don't assume that if they don't answer you that everything is fine.
This may seem like a lot, especially when you really need a job and just want to get started. But if you run into an ethics violation accusation, that could affect your career. Having a solid understanding of the company's ethics policy now will benefit you in the long run. Check out this link to Katharine Hamilton's page for more information on ethics.