COVID Compliance Woes Continue Despite Good Intentions

COVID Compliance Woes Continue Despite Good Intentions

April 21, 2021 | Law360.com

While most ethics and compliance professionals globally gave their firms' leaders high marks on their response to the challenges of COVID-19 from an ethical standpoint, they suggested in a report released Wednesday that much work remains to strengthen risk controls and track employee misconduct as the pandemic drags on.

Of the nearly 650 ethics, compliance and legal executives and experts surveyed in a report from compliance consultancy LRN, 87% said their firms' leaders "rose to the challenges of dealing with the consequences of the crisis."

Firms scored positively across questions relating to so-called ethical culture, with 79% reporting that this "emerged stronger" through the COVID-19 response, while 82% said their organizations "emphasized company values … to motivate employees to do the right thing" during the pandemic.

A majority of respondents also said their boards "effectively supported ethics and compliance" and senior leaders "integrated ethics and compliance considerations into their decision-making."

"In many ways, what they report is heartening: Overall, corporations' ethical cultures and frameworks shone through and helped leaders, managers, employees, and other stakeholders navigate the unforeseen and unknown," according to the report.

But despite the positive efforts, respondents reported perceived failures to get up to speed amid remote work, and they cast concerns regarding future investigations and employee monitoring.

Only 40% of respondents reported that their firms "simplified or modified" compliance procedures to meet the new business challenges, while just 45% said their ethics and compliance team had "strengthened risk controls in critical areas like cybersecurity, privacy, and donations of critical equipment" in the face of the pandemic.

In addition, only 48% of respondents said their ethics and compliance team had offered greater assistance with employee concerns during the pandemic, for instance by "expanding the helpline."

Further, with firms lagging in these areas and remote work likely to continue, 67% of professionals reported that they anticipate "increased difficulty conducting effective investigations and audits," while 56% said COVID-19 will likely lead both to "increased misconduct linked to remote work" and "less effective [ethics and compliance] oversight and monitoring."

"The findings that suggest companies and [ethics and compliance] programs may not be responding nimbly enough," the report states. "The responses [also] raise the question of how quickly and how effectively [ethics and compliance] programs will take helpful proactive steps as the pandemic lingers, and as companies prepare for future crises." 

The report also revealed that firms' technological innovations didn't quite keep up with the pandemic, but that measures are underway to seal those gaps.

A large majority of respondents, 90%, said they foresee implementing the future use of "interactive, web-based [compliance] tools" to make it easier for employees to engage in ethics and compliance programs.

More specifically, 51% said that creating a "web-based, searchable code of conduct" is a high priority moving forward, while the same percentage said the implementation of "digital certifications from employees regarding their COVID-19 risk factor" is a high priority.

The 650 professionals surveyed work at companies globally with at least 1,000 employees, with 48% in North America and 29% in Europe.

Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

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