A Literature Review on Ethical Standards


The present surge of interest in human resource ethics has significantly bypassed the practices and theory of human resource management. The paper sets out to evaluate the ethics in human resources management. Precisely, the objective of this paper is to provide a critical literature review of policy, law or program for a human resource manager. The study also focuses on reviewing codes and ethical consideration in trends of human resource management.  The codes of ethics of HR professionals focuses on five principles allied to loyalty, confidentiality, legality, integrity and proficiency. The paper identified and evaluated Ethical codes. On the same note, the paper outlined three fundamental considerations in professional codes. First, they must set expectation by which constituents judge their professions, second, the ethics should be structured to encourage and support professionals. Lastly, they should represent guidelines to regulate the process by which an HR professional practices a particular profession.


Ethical implications must be used when human resources professional are executing decisions. This will help in avoiding dilemmas involving problems such race and sex discrimination, inconsistencies in discipline and pay, favoritism, breaches of confidentially and sexual harassment (Jackson et al., 2011). Such problems are complex, characterized by ambiguity and challenging to resolve. The paper objective is to describe and evaluate programs, laws or policies in human resource professional. Jackson et al., (2011) argue that professional codes are established based on factors relating to organizational climate, corporate policy and personal values which significantly have an impact on ethical behavior. Therefore, due to the increasing number of complex problems in business environments, human resource management need to enact better codes of ethics for every professional. Wiley (2000) evaluated five major human resource associations and identified various professional codes of conduct.  Those organizations include International Association of Human Resource Information Management (IHRIM), American Compensation Association (ACA), International Personnel Management Association (IPMA), American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and Society for Human Resource Management (SHPM)(Wiley, 2000)

Literature Review

The decision on what profession entails can be complicated to determine; thus approximately all organizations have a well-established code of ethics, and members of the profession rely on the programs for direction in the making an ethical judgment (Jackson et al., 2011).  However, human resource departments are given the responsibility of maintaining and establishing the businesses ethical policies and programs. According to Ethical Resource Center, a larger number of human resource managers across major organizations are active in ethics field (Wiley, 2000). They provide advice and references of ethical information as well as leading on implementing and establishing ethical initiatives. In most businesses HR practitioners manage ethical conducts at the workplace and lead ethics awareness programs at management-level. With a code of professional guidance, an organization can control the conducts of employees in a self-regulatory way. Wiley (2000) analysis classified the codes of HR associations in six obligations which include a commitment to clients, employers, society or public and professional organization and colleges.

The policy of obligations to the public involves the consideration of the professional on society welfare when performing their duties. ACA has a code titled ‘standards of professional conducts’ with aims at maintaining and promoting ethical behaviors (American Counseling Association, 2005). The law emphasis on the obligation of a professional to develop programs which respect rights of an individual without focusing only on the protected class. ASTD program ‘code of ethics’ offers guidance to human resources to be professionals that are self-managed and recognizes the dignities and rights of all individuals. Besides, the ethical codes illustrate on how to enhance understanding of the public on human resource development. According to Wiley (2000), IPMA and IHRIM ethical codes committed to society emphasis on courtesy, decency, fairness and honesty in relationships involving the society while SHRM program highlights on instilling the public and employees with the sense of confidence about intention and conduct of the employer. IPMA, IHRIM and ACA codes address respecting rights of people. On the other hand, IPMA and SHRM focus on improving the understanding of the public. These ethics are designed to enhance the confidence of the society on the profession.

Winstanley and Woodall (2000) assert that code of ethics touching on the society on HR professionals should address aspects of respecting people’s rights, observing the law, improving the understanding of the public about the domain and imparting a sense of assurance about the actions of the employer. Wiley (2000) explains that ASTD, IPMA, ACA, SHRM and IHRIM codes have addressed these aspects. This information strengthens the code of ethics in the field of securing the confidence of the public in a profession is increased.  Statements of the five associations highlight that the devotion of code is to ensure professionals respect rights of people and they can work together fairly, honestly and in ways that preserve individuals’ dignity.

Ethics about commitment to employers pertain the responsibility of the professional to completely perform their tasks accurately (Winstanley & Woodall, 2000). It also encompasses protecting the interest of an employer when necessary. ACA policy expects employees to demonstrate the integrity of the highest standard in relation with an organization. Members are required by ASTD to provide businesses with skills reflecting development, training, and education of the highest level (Wiley, 2000). The code states that ASTD professionals are expected to provide their employers with higher principles of professional discretion, sound judgment, and competence. IHRIM urges its members to uphold the corporate records and information with strict confidentiality. Overall, the codes address the obligations of a professional to employer focusing on higher levels of integrity. Wiley (2000) argue that IPAM and IHRIM focus on legitimate job-related tasks, ACA IPMA, SHRM and ASTD support employer profitability. Therefore, the primary purpose of professional ethics appears to focus on competence and duty to exercise at the integrity of highest standards.


Since the work of most human resources professionals does not directly involve external clients, the codes do not center more on the area. Klingner et al., (2015) state that there is a less ethical policy on a commitment to the customers. ASTD codes indicated that members were obligated to provide the highest quality level of HRD to their clients. Whereas, IHRIM code shows that its members should not exercise personal bias. It also stated that professionals should avoid the personal relationships from exerting influences.

Workplace relationships are the most important aspect of human resource management. Therefore, commitment to colleagues is an important ethical practice (Klingner et al., 2015). The ACA program encourages integrity of highest standards when dealing with other individuals in business environments. According to ASTD ethics code, professionals should support their peers and avoid conducts that are likely to limit their peers from performing their tasks. Moreover, IHRIM policy state that its professionals should report any code’s deviances. Besides, it encourages respect among colleagues. Wiley (2000) argue that most of the HR associations studied required their members to contribute to the growth of the organization.  However, ASTD precisely charges members to desist from using the platform of the society to sponsor professional’s services and products directly.  Similarly, IHRIM, charges its cohorts to exercise respect, honesty, and courtesy in their relationships with colleagues. According to Wiley (2000), these policies show that associations do not want their followers to use professional establishments for subjective gain but rather to be devoted to their objectives.

Although, these organizations do not use the term colleague in stating their codes; it is involved in some programs items. IHRIM advocates for respect between professionals involved in the same field.  It also addresses the issue of using the professional organization for private gains. In the policy of Conflict of Interest, IHRIM refrains its members from such behaviors (Wiley, 2000). Therefore, from the statements provided by the discussed associations a professional operating on behalf of any organization should not use confidential resources for outside business gain. This is the type of ethics that prevents professionals from misusing information for their benefits, and that is why these codes indicate the importance of such policies in an association. Besides, HR professionals are advised to focus on addressing issues of the organization by playing a leadership role (Bratton & Gold, 2012). ASTD code argues members should concentrate on promoting the society growth. To support this argument, the ACA, professionals are encouraged to be aware of the association’s proprietary when using its copyrights, name, symbols and certification designations.

Wiley (2000) discusses that for the five associations, ethical commitment to the professional concentrated on upholding professional conduct and competence at the highest standard (SHRM and IPMA). Also, ASTD, IPMA, ACA, SHRM and IHRIM emphasizes on confidentiality to employers, other constituents, and profession. According to Pynes (2013), on priority aspects, professions obligations have superiority over all other commitment. Since one-member profession does not exist, activities of an individual result to actions of the entire professional group. Therefore, one member can hurt of help the business (Pynes, 2013). For that reason, all the codes of the five associations’ advocated confidentiality be maintained at the highest standard.

For professional ethics to be effective, they must contain sanctions (Klingner, et al., 2015). ACA and SHRM indicate that all members must adhere to their codes but fail to set penalties for those who do not meet those standards.  Out of the five associations, only IHRIM Code included sanctions for the violators. Their penalties include expulsion from the organizations and written reprimand. Besides, codes of ethics in HRM professional are governed by legality, professional loyalty, integrity, confidentiality and proficiency items.

According to information collected from the analysis of the five association’s ethical codes, HR professionals rely on proficient organizations to absorb the knowledge about making an ethical decision (Wiley, 2000). Certainly, HR professionals favor their behaviors to be regulated by self-imposed standards and their codes of ethics. Therefore, referring to the analysis of the code of ethics from the five associations, it is evident that HR disciplines are directed by the items of legality, integrity, confidentiality and proficiency. Bratton and Gold (2012) suggest that high standards of legality involve obeying laws and respecting the rights of the employees, integrity encompasses improving professional competency while confidentiality focuses on safeguarding the confidentially of organization information. These principles provide the general appropriate behaviors for HR professionals across all disciplines (Bratton & Gold, 2012).

However, conflict rules and inconsistencies in languages for the code of ethics might lead to more complex problems than solutions (Bohlander & Snell, 2006). Therefore, associations need to state their laws clearly and provide guidelines to their members for purposes of achieving their goals. The limitation identified during the analyses of ASTD, IPMA, ACA, SHRM and IHRIM code is that they did not focus more on penalties and sanctions. Therefore, they are primarily viewed as a tool of public relation.


Based on the analysis of the five associations, the paper has established that there are three fundamental points considered in professional codes. First, they must set expectation by which constituents judge their professions, second, the ethics should be structured to encourage and support professionals to act according to the public interest. Finally, they should represent guidelines to regulate the process by which an HR professional practices a particular profession. All the codes have significant similarities which lead one to believe that it is reasonable for HR professional to have a unified program.  According to ASTD, IPMA, ACA, SHRM and IHRIM codes, they illustrate that HR professionals have obligations to clients, society, colleagues, profession, and employer.



American Counseling Association. (2005). ACA code of ethics: As approved by the ACA Governing Council, 2005. American Counseling Association.

Bohlander, G. and Snell, S. (2006). Managing human resources. Cengage Learning.

Bratton, J., & Gold, J. (2012). Human resource management: theory and practice. Palgrave Macmillan

Jackson, S., Schuler, R., & Werner, S. (2011). Managing human resources. Cengage Learning.

Klingner, D., Nalbandian, J. and Llorens, J.J. (2015). Public personnel management. Routledge.

Pynes, J. E. (2013). Human resources management for public and nonprofit organizations: A strategic approach. San Francisco.

Winstanley, D., & Woodall, J. (2000). The ethical dimension of human resource management. Human Resource Management Journal, 10(2), 5-20.

Wiley, C. (2000). Ethical standards for human resource management professionals: A comparative analysis of five major codes. Journal of Business Ethics, 25(2), 93-114.

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