Ethics & HR


For Human Resources professionals in Ontario, our practices as members are regulated through the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA). As posted on the HRPA website, ‘the overarching objective of HRPA’s regulatory function is to protect the public by ensuring that human resources professionals in Ontario are competent and act in an ethical manner’. [1]

Certified members of the HRPA in Ontario must abide by the ‘Rules of Professional Conduct’ which clearly articulate the ethical requirement for the profession in Chapter 3 of this document.

Click here to access the HRPA’s Rules of Professional Conduct.

In the wake of much-publicized employee and individual data breaches, such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it seems that the need for ethical regulation is more critical for the profession than ever. We live and work in a world that is virtual. Our work-world is based in digital technology, which allows access to data that is linked to each one of us personally. In this technological environment, according to a recent publication, there are no ethical boundaries that frame or guide how our individual data can be stored, used, and manipulated by others in the workplace.

Click here to read the article.

While the Cambridge Analytica data breach and similar events have resulted in the introduction of increased privacy legislation in several countries, there remains an absence of ‘techno-ethics’ within the virtual workplace. Ethical conduct goes beyond simple compliance with laws and regulations. It speaks to a component of human behaviour that calls upon individual honesty, integrity, and personal accountability to care for our fellow human beings, and their personal data.

For the HR professional, our ethical responsibilities to the profession are in place. It is time to transfer these professional responsibilities into the virtual world to ensure that ethical conduct provides real protection for individuals and organizations alike.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As an HR practitioner, outline an ethics policy which focuses on the protection of employee data.
  2. What types of employee data should be protected? When and how should employee data be shared?
  3. How do you want your personal demographic data to be stored?
  4. What is the HR practitioner’s role when employee data protections are breached?



HR: The Gatekeepers of Ethical Behaviour

Problem-solving concept. Bad and good

The responsibility that keeps growing.

The RCMP Commissioner, Bob Paulson, issued a teary-eyed apology in response to decades-long direct and systemic sexual harassment claims that have plagued the RCMP. This apology was issued after a $100 million settlement in this case.

Click here to read about the apology.

Apologies are needed and are required as they are the fundamental rebuilding blocks of any human relationship. That being said, HR Professionals should strive to never have to apologize for their behaviour or the behaviour of their organization. Apologies for simple mistakes and mishaps are acceptable, but HR should never have to apologize for a systemic issue or a breach of ethics. It is HR’s job to ensure that there should be no need for apology in the first place.

The Human Resources function and the profession requires us to be the gate keepers of and for ethical proactive organizational behaviour. This requires an accountability and a responsibility to ensure ethical behaviour from all individuals within the organization.

Below are some of the ethical competency standards from the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources in Canada (CPHR):

  • Adhere to ethical standards for human resources professionals by modeling appropriate behaviour to balance the interests of all stakeholders.
  • Adhere to legal requirements as they pertain to human resources policies and practices to promote organizational values and manage risk.
  • Recommend ethical solutions to the organization’s leadership by analyzing the variety of issues and options to ensure responsible corporate governance and manage risk.

Click here to see the Canadian Centre of Human Resources Association (CPHR) HR competency Framework.

As rational managers it is our obligation as HR professionals to act not only rationally but also ethically. HR professionals cannot allow the unethical behaviour to seep knowingly or unknowingly into their organization.

HR ethical responsibility just keeps growing. HR has to use standards, policies and practices to ensure ethical organizational standards, and sometimes the pressure to behave unethically is overwhelming to the HR professional. That is when the HR professional must stand their ground and sometimes make very difficult ethical decisions.

When I was a young middle manager in HR with very little formal authority or organizational influence, I was confronted with a profound ethical situation. At that time I was working for a printing company that was allowing illegal immigrants, all women and their children, to come into the printing plant during the night shift and stuff flyers into newspapers. It was appalling.  These were dangerous sweatshop-like conditions, especially for young children. I brought this to the attention of the plant manager and the VP of HR. They told me that due the owner having a 51% controlling interest in the company they could not do anything about it.

I had to make a decision.

I was told the situation would not change. I made the decision to quit the HR position as I did not want to have any responsibility when things went wrong. It was a very hard decision at the time for personal reasons. I needed to be employed, but I could not stay with this organization and be compliant with unethical, illegal conduct.

Did I do enough? As I reflect back, I did not. I never reported this violation and this haunts me to this day. I do not know if it stopped or if a child ever got seriously hurt. I just walked away!

If you are ever in a workplace situation and you see your organization about to make an unethical decision, do not just walk away. Your professional voice must be heard!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Research a company that has been caught acting unethically in some way through a root cause analysis.
  2. Identify five key things HR could have done to prevent the ethical breach.