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Code of Ethics vs. Code of Conduct — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Published on November 6, 2023
A Code of Ethics outlines principles guiding good behavior, while a Code of Conduct provides specific rules or standards for actions.
Code of Ethics vs. Code of Conduct — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct


Key Differences

The terms Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct are used interchangeably in many organizations, but they have distinct nuances. A Code of Ethics generally refers to a set of guiding principles or values that dictate what constitutes right behavior. It delves into the broader philosophies and values of an organization, setting a standard for integrity, honesty, and ethical behavior. For instance, a Code of Ethics may emphasize treating everyone with respect or acting with honesty in all endeavors.
In contrast, a Code of Conduct provides a more detailed and actionable set of rules or guidelines for behavior. It is more prescriptive in nature, specifying exactly what actions are acceptable or not acceptable. A Code of Conduct might list, for example, specific rules against accepting gifts from clients, or it might specify the exact steps for handling conflicts of interest.
When organizations draft these documents, they use the Code of Ethics to define their overarching values and principles, giving members a broad sense of what is expected of them. On the other hand, the Code of Conduct acts as a rulebook, giving individuals a clear list of dos and don'ts. It's a tool for translating the abstract principles of the Code of Ethics into tangible actions.
In essence, while both the Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct serve to guide behavior, their approaches differ. The former is more about moral and ethical guidelines, while the latter is about specific behavioral expectations.

Comparison Chart


Broad principles and values
Specific rules and guidelines


Guide moral and ethical behavior
Outline acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors


General principles like honesty, integrity
Detailed rules like anti-bribery protocols


More abstract and open to interpretation
Clear-cut and prescriptive


Sets overarching values for an organization
Translates values into actionable guidelines

Compare with Definitions

Code of Ethics

Principles guiding moral behavior.
The company's Code of Ethics emphasizes transparency in all operations.

Code of Conduct

Specific guidelines ensuring adherence to organizational values.
The association's Code of Conduct has strict rules against discrimination.

Code of Ethics

Overarching values defining right conduct.
Adherence to the Code of Ethics ensures integrity in all our decisions.

Code of Conduct

Detailed rules guiding behavior.
The company's Code of Conduct prohibits accepting expensive gifts.

Code of Ethics

Philosophical guidelines emphasizing ethical behavior.
The association's Code of Ethics promotes respect, trust, and honesty.

Code of Conduct

A rulebook for acceptable behaviors.
The school's Code of Conduct lists disciplinary procedures for infractions.

Code of Ethics

A standard for ethical decision-making.
Employees consult the Code of Ethics when faced with moral dilemmas.

Code of Conduct

Actionable standards defining right and wrong actions.
Employees must sign and adhere to the firm's Code of Conduct.

Code of Ethics

Values and principles ensuring fairness and honesty.
By following our Code of Ethics, we build lasting client relationships.

Code of Conduct

Clear directives for organizational behavior.
All members must familiarize themselves with the team's Code of Conduct.

Common Curiosities

Can a Code of Ethics vary between industries or cultures?

Yes, it often reflects the specific values, challenges, and objectives of a particular industry or cultural context.

Is a Code of Ethics legally binding?

Typically, it's not legally binding in itself, but it sets the moral and ethical standard expected of its adherents.

What's the purpose of a Code of Ethics?

It serves as a guide for individuals in making decisions based on the shared values and principles of the profession or organization.

Does a Code of Ethics provide specific behavioral rules?

Not usually. It outlines broad principles rather than specific behaviors.

Who typically adopts a Code of Ethics?

Many professions, like doctors, lawyers, and accountants, as well as organizations and businesses, adopt a Code of Ethics.

Who needs a Code of Conduct?

Many businesses, organizations, and professional groups adopt a Code of Conduct to ensure consistent behavior among members or employees.

Is it mandatory for companies or professionals to have a Code of Ethics?

While not always mandatory, many industries and professional bodies expect or require their members to adhere to a specific Code of Ethics.

What is a Code of Ethics?

A Code of Ethics is a document that outlines the principles, values, and beliefs that guide the decisions and behavior of an individual or organization.

How does a Code of Ethics support stakeholders?

By ensuring that members of an organization or profession uphold shared values, it can instill trust and confidence among stakeholders.

Is a Code of Ethics static?

No, it may evolve over time to reflect changes in societal values, industry practices, or organizational objectives.

Does a Code of Conduct apply to all levels of an organization?

Yes, from top management to entry-level employees, everyone is typically expected to adhere.

How does a Code of Conduct differ from a Code of Ethics?

While a Code of Ethics emphasizes principles and values, a Code of Conduct provides explicit guidelines on acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

Do Codes of Conduct have legal significance?

In some cases, certain aspects of a Code of Conduct may align with legal requirements, making violations subject to both internal disciplinary actions and legal penalties.

How is a Code of Ethics enforced?

While not legally binding, professional organizations often have mechanisms for addressing breaches, which can include reprimands, sanctions, or expulsion.

What is a Code of Conduct?

A Code of Conduct is a set of specific guidelines that dictate the expected behaviors and actions of individuals within an organization or group.

Can external parties refer to a company's Code of Conduct?

Absolutely. For instance, suppliers, customers, or partners might refer to a company's Code of Conduct to understand what behaviors are expected.

How often is a Code of Conduct reviewed?

Organizations should regularly review and update their Code of Conduct to ensure it remains relevant and effective.

Is a Code of Conduct enforceable?

Yes, organizations often enforce their Code of Conduct, with breaches potentially leading to disciplinary actions or termination.

How is a Code of Conduct communicated?

It's often provided to employees during onboarding, included in employee handbooks, or made available on an organization's website.

Can a Code of Conduct address issues like harassment or discrimination?

Yes, many Codes of Conduct have specific sections addressing these and other workplace issues, outlining expected behaviors and consequences for violations.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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