Recent reports of employee misconduct at annual conferences have led to negative media reports citing employer mismanagement, compliance issues and ethics quandaries. Employers sponsoring or participating in regional and national conferences in the coming months should ensure that internal travel, attendance, ethics and discipline policies address employer concerns and further business goals. For public corporations, supervisors should ensure compliance with all applicable Securities and Exchange Commission regulations when approving conference travel and related expenditures in order to avoid potential shareholder fraud or whistleblower claims.
In early June, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that it would discipline two employees for misconduct at a 2010 conference held in Anaheim. The two employees were placed on administrative leave and the process to remove them from federal service has begun. A number of other employees have resigned or retired prior to termination. However, the bulk of the media coverage and Congressional scrutiny centered on the agency's lavish spending on conferences using taxpayer money, totaling $49 million over three years.
Employers should not shy away from enforcing discipline or ethics policies because of complex internal procedures, such as those requiring a dismissal for cause, a public employee or an employee who is a union member. Failure to adequately enforce discipline policies may have a negative impact on employee morale and lead to greater liability risks for an employer. For example, a recent Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report concluded that the IRS should have engaged in more aggressive disciplinary actions to address misuse of travel charge cards.
The summer and fall months are an extremely busy time for conference travel. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) concluded its Annual Conference and Exposition in late June, and a number of SHRM state affiliate conferences are scheduled for the months of August and September. Conferences often take place in cities with extensive resort facilities and amenities, which may also provide ample opportunities for bad behavior such as excessive gambling (e.g., Las Vegas, the site of HR Technology's and CUPA-HR's upcoming conferences).
Employers should continue to take advantage of the many positive aspects that grow out of conference attendance, including team-building, employee training and corporate exposure to the latest industry trends, while ensuring compliance with internal and external conduct and ethics standards.