When you look at your ethics training, has it been designed to forestall possible future ethics lapses or is it ‘lost’ in compliance requirements, therefore ‘muddying’ the difference between ethics and compliance?

We need to remember that compliance is ‘letter of the law’ and ethics is ‘spirit of the law’. Compliance is a reactive concept – to be complaint is to act in accordance with a law that one had no part in developing. The choice is whether to obey or not. Ethics is proactive – the choice is how, when, why and what are the consequences of one’s own choice. Compliance is enforceable and ethics is not.

With these points in mind, consider this analogy. Compliance and ethics are like an apple and an orange. Both are fruit and both are good for you, yet they are uniquely different. Therefore, the training must be different. No compliance and ethics officer can do justice to both. A compliance officer’s expertise is just that, compliance. People get confused by the title ‘compliance and ethics officer’, because it gives the impression that compliance and ethics are one in the same, when in reality they are not. Therefore, both compliance and ethics training need to have their own training initiatives. To just have a module or segment of ethics in one’s compliance training really demeans the importance of ethics. The process of thinking ethically is a necessary approach that could really help in being compliant from a different but related perspective.

Is the purpose of your ethics training just to fulfil a requirement (‘a have to’) or is it a chosen proactive approach to help deal with future situations?

Jan-Mar 2015 Issue

Frank C. Bucaro and Associates, Inc.