One of the key components of any best practices compliance regime under any anti-bribery and anti-corruption program is policies and procedures. Policies and procedures tie together a company, its business environment, the risks it faces and the compliance requirements. Policies procedures are a specific requirement for any anti-corruption/anti-bribery compliance regime. In the FCPA Guidance it stated, "Whether a company has policies and procedures that outline responsibilities for compliance within the company, detail proper internal controls, auditing practices, and documentation policies, and set forth disciplinary procedures will also be considered by DOJ and SEC." Under the UK Bribery Act, policies are discussed in the Six Principles of an Adequate Procedures compliance program under Principle V - Communication, where it states "The business seeks to ensure that its bribery prevention policies and procedures are embedded and understood throughout the company through internal and external communication, including training, that is proportionate to the risks it faces."
As further stated in the FCPA Guidance, "Among the risks that a company may need to address include the nature and extent of transactions with foreign governments, including payments to foreign officials; use of third parties; gifts, travel, and entertainment expenses; charitable and political donations; and facilitating and expediting payments." Policies help form the basis of expectation and conduct in your company and Procedures are the documents that implement these standards of conduct.
Borrowing from an article in the Houston Business Journal (HBJ) by John Allen, entitled "Company policies are source and structure of stability", I found some interesting and important insights into the role of policies in any anti-corruption compliance program. Allen says that the role of policies is "to protect companies, their employees and consumers, and despite an occasional opposite outcome, that is typically what they do. A company's policies provide a basic set of guidelines for their employees to follow. They can include general dos and don'ts or more specific safety procedures, work process flows, communication guidelines or dress codes. By establishing what is and isn't acceptable workplace behavior, a company helps mitigate the risks posed by employees who, if left unchecked, might behave badly or make foolhardy decisions."
Allen notes that policies "are not a surefire guarantee that things won't go wrong, they are the first line of defense if things do." The effective implementation and enforcement of policies demonstrate to regulators and the government that a "company is operating professionally and proactively for the benefit of its stakeholders, its employees and the community it serves." If it is a company subject to the FCPA, by definition it is an international company so that can be quite a wide community.
Allen believes that there are five key elements to any "well-constructed policy". They are:
- identify to whom the policy applies;
- establish the objective of the policy;
- explain why the policy is necessary;
- outline examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior under the policy; and
- warn of the consequences if an employee fails to comply with the policy.
Allen notes that for polices to be effective there must be communication. He believes that training is only one type of communication. I think that this is a key element for compliance practitioners because if you have a 30,000 worldwide work force, simply the logistics of training can appear daunting. Small groups, where detailed questions about policies can be raised and discussed, can be a powerful teaching tool. Allen even suggests posting FAQ's in common areas as another technique. And please do not forget that one of the reasons Morgan Stanley received a declination to prosecute by the DOJ was that it sent out bi-monthly compliance reminder emails to its employee Garth Peterson for the seven years he was employed by the company.
Interesting, Allen emphasizes, "having policies written out and signed by employees provides what some consider the most vital layer of communication. A signed acknowledgement can serve as evidentiary support if a future issue arises." I also like it when others recognize my 'Document, Document and Document' mantra for FCPA compliance.
While I think that most compliance practitioners understand this need for policies and procedures, one of the things that is not usually emphasized at a company is effective policy management. Michael Rasmussen writing in Compliance Week in an article entitled "Improving Policies Through Metrics" discussed the need for effective policy management. He believes that it requires that a company must periodically review their policies to ensure that they are relevant and aligned with both current laws and corporate objectives. This is because today's business environment is dynamic and involves both internal and external factors, so, consequently, as a company evolves and changes its policies need to be updated to reflect these changes.
Rasmussen believes that at a minimum, policies must be reviewed annually. He recommends that each policy should go through a yearly review process to determine if it is still appropriate. There should be a "system of accountability and workflow that facilitates" any policy review process. The end product should be a decision to "retire the process, keep the policy as it is, or revise the policy." Rasmussen lists five items that a policy owner should evaluate as a part of the policy review process.
- Here Rasmussen believes that information from reporting systems such as hotlines or other anonymous lines as well as internal or external investigations must be reviewed. Not only would such information indicate if a company policy was violated but the follow-up investigation would help to determine how the policy might have failed, whether it was through "lack of awareness, unauthorized exceptions [or] outright violations."
- Here Rasmussen writes that there should be an analysis of "training and awareness programs, policy attestations" and attendant metrics to determine an appropriate level of policy understanding. He believes that questions to a helpdesk or compliance department could help to discover any ambiguities in a policy that might need to be corrected.
- If you have a policy it should be followed. If an exception to a policy was granted the reason for the exception should have been documented. If there are too many exceptions granted for a policy, it might indicate that "the policy is inappropriate and unenforceable" and therefore should be revised.
- A policy should govern and authorize internal controls. These internal controls should be reviewed in conjunction with the policy review to determine overall policy effectiveness. This is because "At the end of the day the policy needs to be complied with."
- All the factors around a policy are in flux. This includes a company's risk profile, its business strategy, laws and regulations. Since a business' climate is dynamic, a policy should be reviewed in the context of a company's overall situation and revised accordingly.
If there is a change in a policy it is important that not only the correct change be made but that any change is documented. An audit trail is a key component for a company to internally understand when a change is made and the reason for that change but also to demonstrate to a regulator effective policy management and to present "a defensible history of policy interactions on communications, training, acknowledgements, assessments and related details needed to show the was enforced and operational." This audit trail should include "key data points such as the owner, who read it, who was trained, acceptance acknowledgements and dates for specific policy versions". In addition to an audit trail, policy revisions should be archived for referral back at a later time. So, once again, the key message is document, document and document.
Just as best practices in the FCPA compliance arena evolve, so do business practices, markets and risks. If you throw in the complexities from an inter-connected global business milieu, the task becomes even tougher. Business policies are one of the keystones of a company's communications to its employees on what it expects and what is required of its employees. To keep policies up-to-date and properly take advantage of this valuable tool, policies need to be evaluated and updated as appropriate. If your company fails to do so this takes away from the value of having policies in the first place. I hope that you will use the techniques which Rasmussen has described to help you effectively manage your policies going forward.
The FCPA Guidance ends its section on policies with the following, "Regardless of the specific policies and procedures implemented, these standards should apply to personnel at all levels of the company." Allen puts a bit differently in that "it is important that policies are applied fairly and consistently across the organization." He notes that the issue can be that "If policies are applied inconsistently, there is a greater chance that an employee dismissed for breaching a policy could successfully claim he or she was unfairly terminated." This last point cannot be over-emphasized. If an employee is going to be terminated for fudging their expense accounts in Brazil, you had best make sure that same conduct lands your top producer in the US with the same quality of discipline.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2014