Should There Be a Freelancer Code of Ethics?

by Greg DePersio

4 min read

Economists refer to the modern job market as the “Freelance Economy,” and for good reason. Freelancing, where a worker offers his or her services on a contract basis to a variety of companies rather than working as an employee for a single company, has exploded in popularity in the 21st century. There are more freelancers than ever, and their ranks continue to grow; as of 2016, freelancers made up 21% of the Canadian workforce and 34% of the U.S. workforce. It isn’t just writers and artists who freelance anymore. The fastest-growing freelancing fields include information technology, accounting and finance. Because freelancing is a relatively new concept to many industries, challenges arise in the way freelancers and employers relate to one another. The employer might expect one thing, but the freelancer does things a different way. A freelancer code of ethics offers a solution. It establishes guidelines for how freelancers approach jobs and, in turn, gets employers on the same page and reduces confusion.

Benefits of a Freelancer Code of Ethics

Perhaps the biggest benefit to a unified freelancer code of ethics is it gives the concept of freelancing more legitimacy. Many employers remain hesitant to trust important jobs to freelancers. Maybe they had a bad experience with a contract worker at some point, or maybe they just feel more comfortable hiring employees and binding them to a company-specific employee code of conduct. The employer’s ability to review a specific set of freelancer values might quell some of these concerns. Having a freelancer code of ethics also benefits freelancers themselves. When a freelancer signs a new job, he or she doesn’t have to waste time drawing up an agreement with the employer on issues such as confidentiality and personal behaviour since the freelancer code of ethics would already cover it. It also gives freelancers another tool to sell their services with confidence to potential clients.

Personal Behaviour and Professionalism

If you’re drawing up a template for a freelancer code of ethics, consider starting with personal behaviour and professionalism. This section covers everything from attendance and punctuality, to adhering to company dress policies while on the premises, returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner, avoiding harassing behaviour and inappropriate comments, and everything else that falls under the umbrella of personal conduct. Employers want to see that freelancers take themselves as seriously as professionals as full-time employees do. Subscribing to a code of personal behaviour and professionalism is a good place to start.

Privacy and Confidentiality

Maybe the biggest challenge faced by employers hiring freelancers deals with privacy and confidentiality. With full-time employees, it’s much easier. They sign the employee code of conduct, receive extensive training during orientation on company privacy issues, conduct their work on company devices with privacy software installed, and understand the consequences, including termination, of not upholding the company’s confidentiality. Freelancers pose a bigger challenge because they travel from place to place and conduct work on their own personal devices. By signing a professional code of ethics that spells out their responsibility in keeping secure information secure and respecting employers’ privacy, they can put business owners’ minds at ease and make themselves more marketable.

Honesty and Integrity

Some might consider honesty and integrity an offshoot of personal behaviour and professionalism, but it’s important enough to warrant its own section. This portion of the freelancers’ code stipulates that freelancers remain honest and transparent when dealing with clients, charge only for work or work hours completed, and uphold any industry-specific ethical codes. Freelance writers, for example, pledge to submit work that is entirely their own and avoid plagiarism. Accounting professionals agree to follow all tax laws and abide by the CRA’s guidelines. Freelancers in the medical field acknowledge that they understand patient privacy laws and will adhere to them. A formal acknowledgement of practicing integrity in the workplace goes a long way toward making employers comfortable with hiring freelancers.

Implementation

For a freelancer code of ethics to become a reality in Canada, it needs broad acceptance and implementation. A piecemeal approach won’t work. One possibility is for a group such as the Canadian Freelance Union to get on board with the project and use its influence to spread the word among freelancers. Ideally, as the concept gains traction, employers will seek out freelancers who’ve signed the code of conduct. It will become a valuable, perhaps essential, item on a freelancer’s resume. Both employers and freelancers can enter contracts with greater confidence and less stress. The Freelance Economy is real, and yet challenges still exist that are holding it back from its full potential. A freelancer code of ethics alleviates some of these concerns by putting employers and freelancers on the same page regarding important issues.

References & Resources

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