Code of Conduct, Compliance Policies and Procedures-Part IV

by Thomas Fox
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Policies and ProceduresThis is the fourth and final installment of my series on the the importance of a Code of Conduct and anti-corruption compliance policies and procedures in your compliance program and how you should go about drafting or updating Code of Conduct and anti-corruption compliance policies and procedures. On Tuesday, I reviewed the underlying legal and statutory basis for the documents as a foundation of your overall anti-corruption regime. In subsequent posts, I looked at how to go about drafting your Code of Conduct and anti-corruption compliance policies and procedures. Today, I will end the series on how to keep all of the above vibrant and dynamic through a discussion of how to assess, review and revise them and your Code of Conduct on a timely basis.

Simply having a Code of Conduct, together with policies and procedures is not enough. As articulated by former Assistant Attorney General, for the Criminal Division of the US Department of Justice, Lanny Breuer, “Your compliance program is a living entity; it should be constantly evolving.” In an article in the SCCE Magazine, entitled “Six steps for revising your company’s Code of Conduct”, authors Anne Marie Logarta and Ruth Ward suggest considering the following issues before you take on an update of your Code of Conduct.

  • When was the last time your Code of Conduct was released or revised?
  • Have there been changes to your company’s internal policies since the last revision?
  • Have there been changes to relevant laws relating to a topic covered in your company’s Code of Conduct?
  • Are any of the guidelines outdated?
  • Is there a budget to create/revise a Code?

After considering these issues, the authors suggest that you should benchmark your current Code of Conduct against others companies in your industry. I would also add that your standards, policies and procedures should be reviewed and updated in the same manner. If you decide to move forward the authors have a six-point guide which they believe will assist you in making your revision process successful, which I have used as a basis to include revisions to your compliance policies and procedures.

  1. Get buy-in from decision makers at the highest level of the company 

The authors believe that your company’s highest level must give the mandate for a revision to a Code of Conduct and compliance polices and procedures. It should be the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), General Counsel (GC) or Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), or better yet all three to mandate this effort. Whoever gives the mandate, this person should be “consulted at every major step of the Code review process if it involves a change in the direction of key policies.”

  1. Establish a core revision committee 

You should have a cross-functional working group would be ideal to head up your effort to revise your Code of Conduct and compliance polices and procedures. This group should include representatives from the following departments: legal, compliance, communications, HR; there should also be other functions which represent the company’s domestic and international business units; finally there should be functions within the company represented such as finance and accounting, IT, marketing and sales.

From this large group, the topics can be assigned for initial drafting to functions based on “relevancy or necessity”. These different functions would also solicit feedback from their functional peers and deliver a final, proposed draft to the Drafting Committee. The authors emphasize that creation of a “timeline at the outset of the revision is critical and hold the function representatives accountable for meeting their deliverables.”

  1. Conduct a thorough technology assessment 

The cornerstone of the revision process is how your company captures, collaborates and preserves “all of the comments, notes, edits and decisions during the entire project.” They believe that technology such as SharePoint or Google Cloud can be of great assistance to accomplish this process even if you are required to train team members on their use.

In addition to this use of technology in drafting your Code of Conduct and compliance polices and procedures revisions, you should determine if they will be available in hard copy, online or both. If it will be available online, you should assess “the best application to launch your Code and whether it includes a certification process”. Lastly, there must be a distribution plan, particularly if the Code and compliance polices and procedures will only be available in hard copy.

  1. Determine translations and localizations 

The authors emphasize, “If your company does business internationally, then this step is vital to ensure you have one Code, no matter the language.” They do note that if you decide to translate your Code of Conduct be sure and hire someone who is an “approved company translation subject matter expert.” Here I would simply say to contact Jay Rosen at Merrill Brink, as those guys are the one of the top Language Service Providers and know what they are doing when it comes to translations. The key is that “your employees have the same understanding of the company’s Code-no matter the language.” 

  1. Develop a plan to communicate the Code of Conduct 

A rollout is always critical because it “is important that the new or revised Code is communicated in a manner that encourages employees to review and use the Code on an ongoing basis.” Your company should use the full panoply of tools available to it to publicize your new or revised Code of Conduct and compliance polices and procedures. This can include a multi-media approach or physically handing out a copy to all employees at a designated time. You might consider having a company-wide Code of Conduct and compliance polices and procedures meeting where the new or revised documents are rolled out across the company all in one day. But remember, with all thing compliance; the three most important aspects are ‘Document, Document and Document’. However you deliver the new or revised Code of Conduct, you must document that each employee receives it.

6.   Stay on Target 

The authors end by noting that if you set realistic expectations you should be able to stay on deadline and stay within your budget. They state that “You want to set aside enough time so that you won’t feel rushed or in a hurry to get it done.” They also reiterate that to keep a close watch on your budget so that you do not exceed it.

These points are a useful guide to not only thinking through how to determine if your Code of Conduct, and compliance policies and procedure needs updating, but also practical steps on how to tackle the problem. If it has been more than five years since it was last updated, you should begin the process that the authors have laid out. It is far better to review and update if appropriate than wait for a massive FCPA investigation to go through the process.

There are numerous reasons to put some serious work into your Code of Conduct, policies and procedure. They are certainly a first line of defense when the government comes knocking. The FCPA Guidance makes clear that “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.” And by considered, I think it is clear that this means the regulators will take a strong view against a company that does not have well thought out and articulated policies, procedures or Code of Conduct; all of which are systematically reviewed and updated. Moreover, as Allen emphasized, “having policies written out and signed by employees provides what some consider the most vital layer of communication.” Together with a signed acknowledgement, these documents can serve as evidentiary support if a future issue arises. In other words, the ‘Document, Document and Document’ mantra applies just as strongly to this area of anti-corruption compliance.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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