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I got a new job. This is the first time I am working in a big corporate environment so some things are bit new for me.

Right now, I am supposed to be studying the companies internal code of conduct and then sign that I have read and acknowledged it. However, I have objections to certain parts of it and assumptions they make.

Am I supposed to just shut up and sign the papers, that "I have read and accepted the terms and conditions" (so to speak), even if I disagree about certain things? Do other people do that?

Can I reasonably say that I have some objections, refuse to sign and keep the job (even though I am on probation)?

Will signing this have any practical effect or is that more like a binding declaration? (I might be more willing to sign latter than the former.)

EDIT: I would prefer not to specify the concrete issue. I don't believe it would help the discussion. My objections are about things that are uncommon, but not rare. I disagree with some of the underlying assumptions and philosophy.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    May 17 at 0:35

17 Answers 17

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It's likely binding in the sense that violation can lead to disciplinary action, potentially up to firing, essentially the purpose of having you sign such a code is really a means to streamline the process should they need to

Whether that will happen depends entirely on what you do against the code of conduct and how bothered the company is of course.

It's not worth trying to object to it or change it a large corporate won't care, you can either sign or walk away.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    May 19 at 8:04
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Am i supposed to just shut up, sign the papers, that "I have read and accept terms and conditions" (so to speak), even if i disagree about certain things? Do other people do that?

You are required to sign the papers to acknowledge that you received them and read them. This is to prevent the case where you violate them, are dismissed and then attempt to claim "well, I never saw the rules".

As far as "just shut up", you are free to complain about them to your boss or HR. That likely will gain nothing for you, but perhaps you'll feel better. The risk of doing so is that you could get labelled as "high maintenance" and dismissed at the end of your probation period.

Can i reasonably say that i have some objections, refuse to sign and keep the job (even though i am on probation)?

No. You may be able to state your objections and keep the job. But it's unlikely you can refuse to sign and keep the job.

Will signing this have any practical effect or is that more like unbinding declaration? (I might be more willing to sign latter than the former.)

The practical effect is evidence in cases where you violate the code of conduct. Absent a violation, there is no practical effect.

If you feel that you absolutely cannot work within the bounds of this code of conduct due to your objections, you should start looking for a new job while you are within your probation period.

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    "Accept" does not just mean read and understand. It also means you agree to abide by them. May 16 at 2:35
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    @DJClayworth it might, but if OP then doesn’t abide by them, they’ll be fired. They’ve acknowledged that that’s fine. There’s no difference between agreeing to something with the knowledge you won’t abide, and agreeing to something and then changing your mind / accidentally not abiding (from a consequences point of view).
    – Tim
    May 16 at 5:44
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    @DJClayworth "Accept" can also mean recognize. For example: "I accept that that is your Code of Conduct". May 16 at 8:31
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    Raising objections will be prejudicial if you have a future violation on a matter you objected to. For instance, suppose Joe complains about a policy that workers must be available on Saturdays unless they have a religious reason (unspoken: half the workforce is Jewish, so the company needs the Gentiles to cover on Shabbas)... and then Joe does something that might be read as antisemitic... then the earlier statement will tip the scales against Joe. May 18 at 1:51
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    @GregoryCurrie Lawyers don't generally leave interpretations to the vague semantics of English dictionaries. "Accept" will have only one meaning in the context of a contract and you cannot barter any substitute meaning that pleases you, regardless of whether it's a broadly acceptable interpretation in standard English.
    – J...
    May 18 at 17:05
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"Accept" does not mean "agree with".

You are permitted to disagree. However you will have to actually do what the code requires, even if you disagree with it.

For example, (and its an unlikely one) the code may say that you are required to not bring any meat based food to work. You may not be vegetarian. You may not think that restriction is reasonable or fair. They don't care about that. They only care that you abide by the restriction and don't openly oppose it or complain about it.

If you can do that, sign and enjoy your job.

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    A signature also means that you "accept" the consequences of failing to abide by the rules. If (as in this example), you bring meat to work, you may be reprimanded, put on probation or even fired immediately. So long as you "accept" these consequences, you're good to go.
    – FreeMan
    May 16 at 14:01
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    @FreeMan Not accepting doesn't mean that you can avoid getting fired for that. May 17 at 5:42
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First, the wording of what you sign is very important. There is a difference between "I have read and acknowledge it" and "I have read and accept terms and conditions". The difference is that you cannot choose not to abide by the code of conduct.

The company is telling you that this is "how we do things here" and that if you don't agree, and if you consistently don't act in accordance with that code, they can and will end your employment. You may think that's wrong. You may disagree with the code. (I had jobs with dress codes, for example.) There may even be mechanisms, however slow and painful, for changing the code. But unless and until it is changed, this is "how we do things here."

You sign that you've read it so you can't claim later you were fired unfairly because you had no idea there was a rule about [whatever]. You are not being asked to agree to it because (and since this is your first job I will repeat myself) you do not have the option of not agreeing to it.

Since you have not discussed specifics I won't advise you whether you should accept what modern workplaces are like and work under this code, or instead look for a different job, or perhaps try to change this code. Since you say your objections are about "underlying philosophy" I will point out codes of conduct govern what you do, not what you think or believe. You may find the practical implications of this code on your daily working life are very small.

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    @JoeStrazzere I don't really think it makes much of a difference here. I think "accept" just means you're not going to query it in the short term. But that doesn't mean magically the employee doesn't need to abide by it. May 15 at 17:12
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    The difference might be that while the CoC document remains unsigned, the employee hasn't accepted it, @JoeStrazzere. But that's not an option, or more accurately their acceptance isn't required and therefore isn't asked for. What's asked for is confirmation they've seen and read the rules that apply to everyone. (This is what we did with our policies and how we explained them as we asked new hires to sign.) May 15 at 18:20
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    Yes, you are bound by it. Which is why adding "I agree that I am bound by this" is a bad document to create. It implies (people could even try to argue and have some success) that if you don't sign, you're not bound or you don't agree. That's why my forms (and the one the OP asked about) don't say that. My answer points this out to the OP. Their acceptance, agreement, etc are not asked for, not required. Employees are bound by these policies, period. To imply that this is a decision of theirs would be at best confusing and at worst might enable someone to argue they weren't bound. May 15 at 18:40
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A company gets to decide its code of conduct (within the bounds of law). It's almost certainly a condition of employment that you agree to abide by the code of conduct. So, by agreeing to be employed by them, you are already agreeing to abide by the code of conduct.

Refusing to sign or acknowledge it does not mean that cannot fire you if you disagree with it.

Explicitly stating anywhere that you disagree with the code of conduct means three things:

  • You are aware of the code of conduct
  • You have read the code of conduct
  • You disagreed with some elements

Signing the code of conduct is a very clear and easy way for the employer to assert, in a court of law for instance, that you were aware of your obligations. But there are other ways they can prove that. They may not even need to prove you were aware, only that you were given every chance to be aware (for example, by having it sent to you).

Your employer could simply refuse to continue employing you if you refuse to sign, or they could just ignore it.

Note that reading and acknowledging it does not mean you agree with it. It just means you admit they have a code of conduct, and you have read it.

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  • Thank you for your answer. You raise some good points. "Note that reading and acknowledging it does not mean you agree with it." Isn't that automatically implied?
    – J. Doe
    May 15 at 8:24
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    @J.Doe "I have read and accept" means you agree to abide by them, it doesn't mean you agree with them. Hence the questions about the nature of your objections. If you think they're dumb but you're willing to follow, the company doesn't care. If you're going to sign this and then blatantly violate the terms, they're going to have issues with you.
    – Erik
    May 15 at 8:29
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    @Erik: I see. That sounds like acceptable arrangement.
    – J. Doe
    May 15 at 8:38
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Am i supposed to just shut up, sign the papers, that "I have read and accept terms and conditions" (so to speak), even if i disagree about certain things? Do other people do that?

In a word, yes. Shut up, sign, and get to work. Number 1 rule of big corporate: Dont rock the boat. Number 2 rule of big corporate: If you HAVE to rock the boat, make sure your endgame has a very worthwhile economic payoff.

30 years in the business - at all levels for big, small, and tiny enterprises. Never heard of anyone being fired for violating the code of conduct. But I HAVE heard of firings (and done some firing) for many other things, including for being what I call an early-onset PIA.

My advice is leave your Personal Philosophies, Political Viewpoints, Social Justice Beliefs, and especially your Insights into Software Development and Engineering at the door. Etc.

Sign the doc. Its not a contract with Satan. Dont be an early-onset PIA. With FUTURE employment opportunities, pay MUCH more attention to Non-Disclosure Agreements and Covenants Not To Compete. THOSE docs pack a serious legal wallop.

Now get focused, Junior Programmer. Your focus is : "Write software and get paid for it."

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    You should perhaps tell us what PIA stands for. The first two pages of Google hits didn't seem relevant. May 16 at 7:31
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    I have seen people fired for violating the code of conduct. Admittedly, they had also broken the law, but them having breached the code of conduct which they had read and signed meant they could be fired at once and the company would continue to get government contracts. Otherwise a few thousand of us would have been in danger of losing our jobs.
    – RedSonja
    May 16 at 7:52
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    Afterwards one of the group sued the company for wrongful dismissal, because he hadn't completely known what was going on. He won and was awarded damages, but will not work in this industry again.
    – RedSonja
    May 16 at 7:54
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    @GregoryCurrie That is - in my experience - usually abbreviated (initialized) as PITA, not as PIA. May 16 at 14:01
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    @StigHemmer I think PITA is more common. I've not seen PIA before either.
    – DKNguyen
    May 16 at 18:33
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"read and acknowledge" - i would definitely sign it.

Why?

  • this is not "I agree, I endorse" the rules. It's not even increasing your liability to follow the code of conduct. It is obvious that while on the clock (and depending on the job also while not on the clock) you follow the most up to date code of conduct
  • The function of a code of conduct it to specify what the company thinks is within their right and obligation to set rules for - they may be right about it, or wrong
  • If thinks it's blatantly illegal what they are prescribing, ask a lawyer or your union representative
  • If you disagree with parts of the code of conduct, since you feel unfairly treated, talk to your boss.

If somebody in my team would not be able to read and acknowledge the content of a code of conduct and raise concerns professionally and specifically, I would escalate it in zero time.

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The code of conduct has a purpose and while you personally might disagree with some elements, are you sufficiently informed about the history and reasoning? There may be very good reasons why the rules were made like this and you simply aren't aware of them.

However, it is most likely not your job to improve the code of conduct. There is probably a process for handing in suggestions. You can follow that, if it matters to you.

For the moment, they require that you sign you received and read it. From your words, that is a true statement, so you shouldn't have a problem with it. As for following the code - well yeah, their house, their rules.

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Not knowing what exactly is bothering you I'd say that you could definitely bring it up in discussion with your boss - maybe there is just some misunderstanding or something obsolete and it shows great initiative and attention to detail to bring it up.

On the other hand, if it seems you are just nitpicking about something not worth nitpicking, like someone here said, might earn you a bad rep of 'high maintenance'.

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Am I supposed to just shut up, sign the papers, that "I have read and accept terms and conditions" (so to speak), even if I disagree about certain things? Do other people do that?

Yes, people accept things that they disagree with all the time.

Can I reasonably say that I have some objections, refuse to sign and keep the job (even though I am on probation)?

Probably not. Your employer will have to decide between finding someone else who will follow their rules and changing their rules just for you. Most likely, they'll prefer to hire someone else.

Will signing this have any practical effect or is that more like unbinding declaration? (I might be more willing to sign latter than the former.)

Since we don't know exactly what you're signing, it's hard to say.

Your signature might just acknowledge that you know the rules so that you can't claim you weren't told what the rules are should you subsequently be fired for violation.

But some companies make their policies a binding, enforceable contract that includes the ability to sue you for damages. For example, if the rules include a non-disclosure agreement, many jurisdictions do permit an employer to sue an employee who violated that agreement. Your signature could form a contract where you agree to follow the rules in exchange for employment and are liable for damages.

You are right to take this seriously if it is a contract with potential penalties that exceed merely being terminated.

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Here’s a way to think about this situation. What the company is telling you is basically this:

We have a list of N+1 rules you must follow if you want to work here.

Rule 0 is “you must read the list of rules 1-N and acknowledge in writing that you have done so.”

Rules 1-N are in this document here called our “Code of Conduct”. Please read it and acknowledge in writing that you have done so (see Rule 0 above).

Capiche?

If you don’t sign the document, you are in violation of Rule 0 and therefore will almost certainly not be allowed to work there. You have shown yourself to be a person who cannot follow even the first rule they are telling you about!

If you sign the document but later violate rule [k], you are in violation of that rule and therefore your continued employment is also at risk.

If you sign but express disagreement with some of the rules, you may not technically violate any rules, but will send a clear signal that you are a potential troublemaker. This is unlikely to endear you to anyone or to improve your continued employment prospects. And since you signed the document anyway, this expression of disagreement serves no purpose whatsoever.

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    I like this answer. OP: Note that Rule 0 is not: "You agree with the list of rules", or "You agree to follow the list of rules". It's to read the list of rules. By signing your employment contract, you've already agreed to follow the code of conduct. May 17 at 7:44
  • "If you sign but express disagreement with some of the rules, you may not technically violate any rules, but will send a clear signal that you are a potential troublemaker." I'm pretty sure this kind of toxic culture is responsible for a good chunk of the bad stuff that corporations do. Management lives in their ivory bubble and doesn't want to hear anything. Anyone who disagrees with anything is labelled a troublemaker. Shut up and fall in line.
    – Luaan
    May 18 at 9:34
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Am I supposed to just shut up and sign the papers that "I have read and accepted the terms and conditions" (so to speak)

This is what most large workplaces expect, yes.

Do other people do that?

Unfortunately, it is very common. However, the common attitude is a combination of this and the "Oh, I don't know what it says, I just signed whatever they gave me without really reading it" - which is a sort of a defense, I suppose.

This is unfortunate, but almost inevitable given the power relations between employers and employees in a Capitalist society.

even if I disagree about certain things?

The whole point is to make you sign things you may disagree with and then hold it over your head - legally or at least culturally.

Can I reasonably say that I have some objections, refuse to sign and keep the job (even though I am on probation)?

In most cases, to do something like this, there needs to be a strong, non-corrupt, union at that workplace to back you up and prevent your getting fired. But - if there were one, that CoC might already have been challenged.

So, probably not. I suppose there may be rare exceptions, but most probably not. And it pains me to say this, because I've been in somewhat-similar situations on several occasions in my life already.

Will signing this have any practical effect or is that more like a binding declaration? (I might be more willing to sign latter than the former.)

Those two options are basically the same.

Remember, though, that a CoC is sometimes a statement of what principles are supposedly adhered to but actually violated massively, so who knows.

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I'm going to disagree with other answers on at least one point:

Am I supposed to just shut up and sign the papers, that "I have read and accepted the terms and conditions" (so to speak), even if I disagree about certain things? Do other people do that?

Yes. If you want to work there, you have to sign the papers. Others have discussed the nuance between acknowledging the policy vs agreeing with it, but the upshot is the same: this is likely a condition of employment.

Can I reasonably say that I have some objections, refuse to sign and keep the job (even though I am on probation)?

Most likely not.

Some other answers have suggested you might be able to push back on some points and that a "reasonable" HR department might be open to discussing these with you.

Unless you are the newly-hired CEO or director of HR, then this is almost certainly false.

I mean, it's fine to ask clarifying questions, and if there are any obviously egregious problems (like clear illegalities or something), then those might be worth a mention.

But you are a brand new, (I'm guessing) lower-level hire. You are a new tiny cog in a giant machine. You have ZERO organization influence or reputation to "spend" on this matter. If you were a well-respected long-term employee? Then maybe you'd have some institutional "credit" accumulated that might help you here.

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    I am a retiree of one of the most well known companies in the world. This is the only answer I upvote because it's the right answer. Other answers gave the impression that the code of conduct is not that serious. This is not true at all. The company I retired from spent millions of dollars to train the employees every year to follow the code. For the new hire, if you ever challenge it or even question it, the consequence is serious.
    – Nobody
    May 21 at 8:34
  • CC to @J.Doe, the OP.
    – Nobody
    May 21 at 8:36
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You can try ignoring it and not signing it. Or ask a polite objectively worded question and hope they never answer you, not wanting the trouble. In many cases, HR does not want to kick up a fuss and will ignore you.

Of course, that is certainly not guaranteed. In many or most cases, HR will get back to you and bother you.

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    This is my preferred answer. A lot of the time if you ignore something unimportant at work then it just goes away. I've worked for my current company for five years, and every time I log in to the company intranet I get notified that I need to indicate that I accept the conditions of use of company equipment. I ignore it because I've read it and it says that I can't make any changes to the operating system. But on my first day I resized the Windows partition to the minimum possible size and I installed Linux, so I can't very well agree to a rule that I've already broken :-)
    – Aaron F
    May 17 at 14:15
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In case you have objections to certain points and feel you have to voice them, put this in written form - and don't rush this statement. Even in the event that you might decide not to sign it, this proofs not only that you've read and acknowledge it, but also that you've minded about it.

Especially in large companies, things move slow - so there is a good chance that there may be certain paragraphs which are kind of outdated. I'd suggest to first talk with your superior, just to make sure you've understood it correctly. When there's too many paragraphs you don't agree with, their imposed culture might not be suitable for you. Once I've also received some "Gini Handbook" and my response with literally "WTF?" (in German), because I've disagreed with most of that.

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    Note that putting it in writing and sending writing to employer performs the same role as signing it. It's proof that you are aware of the content of the code of conduct. May 17 at 5:44
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    That's exactly what I've wrote - the point may be the amount of disagreement. May 17 at 6:39
  • If you are going to acknowledge it via a complaint, you may as well just sign the thing because legally you're in the same position. The difference being that HR may simply fire you if you refuse to sign the document. May 17 at 6:55
  • In case of a code violation, one still can claim that one didn't sign it off (it's only partial agreement). This question is difficult to answer, while not knowing the concrete paragraph which OP disagreed with. I mean, if the reason for disagreement is plausible, whether or not. In my case it was the other way around, that I received the code before the contract and the rejected the contract, because not wanting to bend so much. One should ask for the code in advance - because technically it's part of the contract, but not presented along with the contract. May 17 at 7:02
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    The problem is they don't need you to sign off on it to be bound by it. The company gets to decide what the code of conduct is without absolutely any say from the employee. May 17 at 7:41
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Let’s say there are things that you disagree with in the “code of conduct” but you just sign that you read and acknowledged it, without a complaint. What is the effect?

First, you get the job, and as long as you only do things either within the “code of conduct”, or things that nobody knows or cares about, you are fine.

If you run into a situation where you think “I would like to do X, but the code of conduct doesn’t allow it”, your choice: You can not do X. You can ask your manager whether you should do X, assuming it is beneficial to the company, even though it is against the rules, and follow their advice. You can just do X, but there may be negative consequences. No consequences if it is unimportant, no real consequences if you are valuable enough to the company to ignore that you didn’t follow the rules, or being told off or even losing your job if it is serious.

You cannot be forced to follow the rules, but you can lose your job over it. You can likely say that you did not like some rule but are still willing to follow it. If you say that there are rules you won’t follow or refuse to sign you likely don’t get the job.

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I read an employment contract, crossed out two lines. (About them keeping my personal tools if I used them as part of a demo in class). Two years later they got round to querying it and agreed they would never do that anyway…

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    Note that an employment contract is not the same as as a code of conduct. In addition, unless your employer initialed the change, it's unlikely it would hold up in court. May 15 at 17:09
  • @GregoryCurrie « two years later… » they agreed, as I said in the post. Did you miss that? Never went to court because they queried it and agreed……
    – Solar Mike
    May 16 at 4:21
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    If they didn't agree and it went to court, your little amendments would not have been upheld. May 16 at 4:42
  • In my experience an employment contract isn't the same thing as a code of conduct. What would you do regarding a disagreement with some terms in a code of conduct?
    – bob
    May 16 at 14:05
  • @SolarMike: Gregory is right, Code of Conduct != Contract. I actually tried to argue about some clauses of the contract and they said those clauses are not going to be used, but they will not change it ("in order to be fair to others").
    – J. Doe
    May 16 at 17:25

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