The Regulation of Professional Conduct
As the regulatory body for the human resources profession in Ontario, the overarching objective of HRPA’s regulatory function is to protect the public by ensuring that human resources professionals in Ontario are competent and act in an ethical manner.
The regulation of professional conduct is accomplished in many ways such as ensuring that members of the profession are of good character, providing guidance and educating members to members as to what constitutes appropriate professional behaviour, and by having robust complaints and discipline processes that deal with situations where a member may not have met the standards of conduct. All of these require clear guidance as to what is appropriate professional behaviour. Codes of ethics, rules of professional conduct, and standards of practice provide this guidance.
Guidance with respect to professional conduct
Setting standards of practice for members is an important aspect of HRPA’s regulatory responsibilities. It is one of the three main tasks for professional regulation:
- setting standards for who may enter the profession
- setting standards of practice for those working in the profession
- disciplining members who fail to meet the standards of the profession
Practice standards and practice guidelines as defined here are prescribed by the Board of HRPA pursuant to the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario Act, 1990.
Code of Ethics, Rules of Professional Conduct, and Standards of Practice
Codes of ethics, rules of professional conduct, and standards of practice are similar in that they all pertain to regulation and governance of member conduct, yet each is somewhat different from the other. A code of ethics sets out the principles that guide member conduct and tend to be more directional than specific. Rules of professional conduct define member behaviours, the ‘dos and don’ts’ of professional practice. Standards of practice are detailed guidelines for specific professional activities. A code of ethics is fairly broad, rules of professional conduct are more specific, standards of practice are even more specific. All three levels of specificity are useful.
The HRPA Rules of Professional Conduct
The HRPA Rules of Professional Conduct set out the duties of human resources management professionals toward employer or clients, employees, other professionals, the profession, and the public. These Rules apply to all members of HRPA, whether they are responsible for human resources management policies for an organization or act as a consultant to an organization, whether as employees or as independent practitioners.
The HRPA Rules of Professional Conduct are organized into chapters and divisions. The first three chapters provide basic definitions, Chapter IV provides rules organized according to the seven principles of the Code of Ethics, Chapter V provides general duties which were not covered in Chapter IV, Chapters VI through VIII provides specific duties organized by role, and Chapter IX provides rules that relate to the member’s relation to HRPA.
Each year when renewing membership in HRPA, members must attest to the fact that they have read, understood, and agree to abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct. This is an appropriate time for each member to re-read the Rules and to consider his or her professional practice in light of the Rules.
Practice standards and practice guidelines
Practice standards and practice guidelines refer to specific guidance issued by HRPA and directed to its members pertaining to specific areas of professional practice. The essential difference between practice standards and practice guidelines is that practice standards are mandatory standards that all members must follow, whereas practice guidelines are recommended or suggested practices that members are expected to consider but may not follow depending on the circumstances. Practice standards generally use verbs such as ‘shall’ or ‘must’, but practice guidelines use verbs such as ‘should’ or ‘might.’
Practice standards and practice guidelines are not intended to put unnecessary restriction on the practice of members; rather, they are issued by HRPA in the public interest. Protection of the public remains the essential objective of practice standards and practice guidelines.
In keeping with the approach of self-regulation, practice standards and guidelines are developed with significant input of practicing professionals. A process for the development of practice standards and practice guidelines is given below, although deviations from this process may occur from time to time.
All practice standards and practice guidelines are approved by the Board of HRPA. The Board is clear that not adhering to a practice standard is detrimental to the public interest, and not adhering to a practice guideline will usually, though not always, be detrimental to the public interest. Failure to abide by a practice standard, or failure to consider a practice guideline, may be grounds for professional misconduct. When a practice guideline is not followed, the member may be expected to justify, if required to do so, departures from recommended practices.
All members of HRPA are required to makes themselves aware of practice standards and guidelines and to apply these standards and guidelines to their practice. Ignorance of a specific guideline or standard is not a valid reason for failing to apply a relevant guideline or standard.
When a guideline or standard is approved by the Board of HRPA, the registrar shall endeavour to make all members aware of the guideline or standard. Nonetheless, the responsibility for being aware of and applying the standards and guidelines remains with the individual practitioner.