Every employee brings their "whole self" with them to an organization, and that can include their mental health challenges. There are instances when many employees display emotions that may seem inappropriate for the workplace, but when there is a mental illness, they may become emotional in such a way that it is disruptive and recurring. This is when a manager would speak with the employee about behaviors such as throwing things, yelling, cursing and a host of others. The problem is that some organizations approach the employee empty-handed. They can't refer the employee to anything that outlines expectations.

It's beneficial for a company to have a code of conduct document that is given to each employee upon hiring and that requires that they sign and acknowledge receipt of it. Unfortunately, a code of conduct document is often believed to be more of a performance management tool. But it's more of a legal tool. It gives you documentation that people understand expectations. It's not a tool to help but rather enforce.

If you truly value the employee, use other resources initially to bring the employee back into a state of performance and productivity. You would want to recommend an Employee Assistance Program or counseling. The code of conduct should be considered a sword that you wield when all other measures have been taken. Keep in mind that a code of conduct document is a legal document between you and the employee. It doesn't necessarily endear you to the employee when you jump to the document before inquiring about their behavior and showing you truly care about what is happening with them.

However, sometimes there comes a point when the employee needs to be reminded of what is expected of him and what are appropriate and inappropriate workplace behaviors. Here are few things to consider regarding a code of conduct document:

What to Include

It's smart to get one sooner than later and keep it updated yearly. You can actually do it yourself; however having an attorney would be very helpful. But if your budget doesn't call for an attorney there are tons of them on the internet and you can tap into at the Society of Human Resources Management website.

"Our code of conduct talks about respect in the workplace and how to treat each other. There are some very general ones and then some opportunity to customize them to your industry," says Debbi Kvietkus, vice president of human resources at IDI Gazeley.  She further explains that there are several things that you want to include, but no code of conduct is complete without:

  • Values and ethical principles that include workplace behavior and respect for all people. Describe in detail what that looks like in the workplace and even give examples.
  • Standard of conduct--includes complying with the job description, commitment to the organization, and proper computer, internet and email usage.
  • Disciplinary actions--includes handling of complaints and specific penalties for any violation of the code.

Write to Your Employees

It's very easy to use big words, lengthy phrases, and legal jargon when writing a code of conduct, especially if you are in the mindset of liability and discipline. But you really want to create a road map for your employees to follow when they lose their way. A good code of conduct should be user-friendly and easy to read. Even if you secure the assistance of an attorney, partner with him to use your organization's language without a lot of legalese. As Kvietkus says, "You want to be straightforward and not from a "gotcha" aspect. Your code of conduct can be from a helping relationship vantage point and providing guidelines versus punitive language."

Keep Things in Perspective

If you have an employee who appears to have a mental health challenge, your code of conduct is not a cure-all pill. What the employee may need is help that will not be found in the code of conduct. The code of conduct is to remind the employee of what is expected while coaching to manage him. The code of conduct may bring about an awareness that will help the employee recognize that something is going on that is causing disruptions. At that point, you can recommend that he seek help and support. However, if all else fail you can use violation of the code of conduct as a part of your progressive disciplinary actions.