Does your home health agency have a formal code of conduct for employees? If not, you need one.
In the simplest terms, a code of conduct is a written document that clearly expresses your expectations for employees in terms of your company’s values and beliefs that form the foundation of a successful operation. More than just a collection of rules (although the code is likely to include some rules), a code of conduct serves as a guide for employees in how they should behave and manage relationships and activities while acting on behalf of your organization. In some cases, a code of conduct can even be a part of your brand. A well-constructed code will not only guide employees in their day-to-day activities, but provide a glimpse into what your customers and partners can expect from your company as well.
A code of conduct (in some cases, also known as a code of ethics) is particularly important for home health agencies because home health is an industry built on trust. Home health employees have a responsibility to protect and preserve the rights of their patients, and to be honest and ethical in all their interactions with patients and their families. A code of ethics can remove the guesswork when they find themselves in challenging situations, while also providing you, the employer, with just cause for discipline should an employee violate the code.
An effective code of conduct is a two-step process: writing the code, and communicating the code. A code that isn’t communicated and lived daily is little more than a piece of paper. For that reason, it’s important to follow some specific steps to ensure an effective code.
Writing the Code
One common mistake agencies make when developing a code of conduct is focusing too heavily on a list of do’s and don’ts. While certain standards are important (aides showing up to work in dirty clothes with offensive slogans across the front is not acceptable, obviously) the code of conduct should be more focused on empowering employees to make the right choices in their everyday work to reflect the values of the organization.
To begin the process, consider the ethical challenges that your staff is likely to face on any given day, and discuss them in the context of your core values to identify the most desires responses and actions. What behaviors do you want your employees to embrace? For instance, you might group your core values into themes like compassion, quality, integrity, etc. How can employees — and your business processes — demonstrate these values? The answers to those questions form the backbone of your code of conduct.
In addition to addressing your core values, a code of conduct should also address a few additional important points, including:
- Your employment practices, including your measures to prevent workplace discrimination and a hostile workplace, ensure diversity, and EEO
- Practices related to patients (i.e., anti-discrimination)
- The protection of corporate assets
- Third-party relationships and potential conflicts of interest
- Efforts to combat fraud and abuse, including Anti-Kickback laws and the False Claims Act
- Policies and measures to protect patient privacy and comply with HIPAA
- Rights and requirements related to “whistleblowing” and the reporting of compliance violations, including a commitment to confidentiality and non-retaliation
- Your commitment to comply with all applicable local, state, and federal regulations
It’s also important that your code of conduct address the consequences for failing to comply with the terms of the code. Employees need to be informed as to how conduct violations will be enforced, investigated, and disciplined.
Finally, when writing the code, keep in mind the tenets of an effective code:
- • Use “we” focused language. Create the feeling that the entire agency is in this together from the top down, and everyone is following the same rules.
- • Keep the language simple, clear, and concise. Provide multilingual versions if necessary.
- • Begin with a foreword that holds everyone accountable for the code.
Communicating the Code
The next phase of code of conduct implementation is communicating the code. Because this forms the foundation of how your team will act on behalf of your agency, this document should not be hidden in a file. Employees should be introduced to the code from day one, and receive ongoing training and refreshers to ensure compliance.
One easy way to maintain code of conduct compliance is to include reminders in the form of checklists or guides that employees can easily access; a tab in the home health software, for example, is a great place to keep this information so your providers can access it on the go. When an employee is faced with a potentially sticky situation, he or she can refer to the guide to evaluate the situation and make the right choice. Other agencies have also used public bulletin boards, the company intranet, and employee handbooks to share the code of conduct keep it at top of mind.
Implementing a code of conduct is an important step toward keeping your agency running smoothly and avoiding potential serious issues with both clients and regulatory agencies. To learn more about tools that can help you run your agency efficiently, check out Complia Health here.