Who would’ve expected this? A new virus strain that within a few weeks develops into a pandemic and results in extensive restrictions to public life. For many, everyday life has changed considerably since the outbreak of the coronavirus and millions of employees now have to work from home. This development also poses increasing challenges for compliance teams.
Covid-19: Legal Questions for Employers and Employees
There are numerous legal issues surrounding the coronavirus:
- As an employer, can I request that all of my employees work from home?
- Who has to inform who and when do they have to inform them if they are infected?
- Can employees stay off work if childcare facilities are closed and they have to organize childcare?
But that's not all: COVID-19 has also temporarily heralded a new way of working. Employees no longer come into the office and in-person events are no longer permitted. What does this mean for the work of compliance officers? Compliance departments need to be in close contact with employees to provide them with important updates, particularly at this time when rules are changing daily.
Compliance Communication and Training
If you haven’t done so already, now is the time that compliance officers should look at existing internal communication channels. In most organizations, communication facilitated using the telephone and tools such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, Slack.
These tools also support video communication – especially important during times with no in-person meetings. This is also helpful when it comes to potentially sensitive ethical issues that employees want to discuss directly with compliance officers. These and similar tools can be used to organize meetings, hold team discussions, answer individual compliance questions from employees and provide status reports to the management board while working remotely.
However, as soon as you need to communicate with a large number of employees, these tools reach their limit. Particularly during uncertain times such as the corona crisis, it can make sense to organize virtual meetings that all employees can attend and ask questions. Options for these larger meetings include for example an Audio Webcast (for large telephone conferences including a presentation) or a Video Webcast (for live video streaming). Originally designed for investor communications, they are now also a powerful tool for compliance officers.
If it is "only" a matter of one-way communication - i.e. updates from compliance regarding updated regulations, new processes or similar - the intranet or - if necessary - an email distribution list are still good options. The most important thing is to keep communication channels open, communicate proactively and always make it possible for employees to ask follow-up questions.
Another consequence of the coronavirus: classroom training on compliance topics, which is usually very popular, has been cancelled. It is worth therefore checking whether you can deliver these training courses using the aforementioned tools. Some of these tools can even be used to display digital whiteboards or mind maps, so the presenter and the participants can still interact. An e-learning system, which ideally already exists in the company, is a good addition.
Ensure Confidential Communication for the Reporting of Incidents
Compliance violations will not decrease with more employees working from home, in fact the opposite may even be true. When colleagues, supervisors and auditors are no longer physically present, the inhibition threshold for violations could go down.
However it won’t be possible to contact compliance in person to report an irregularity. In addition, many whistleblowers prefer to remain anonymous because they fear negative consequences. Our study on whistleblowing systems in companies, carried out together with the HTW Chur, showed that 60% of whistleblowers report anonymously if this possibility exists.
Completely anonymous reports are only possible via a digital whistleblowing system. These systems are also the ideal channel for the "new" world of work: they can be used anywhere, are available around the clock, without the need to rely on call centers or internal systems.
Rethinking Compliance Processes: Policies, Gifts & Invitations, Business Partner Screening & More
Many companies still print out policies, give them to new employees and ask for them to be returned signed. When working from home this process is difficult to implement. You can of course email the policies, but how many employees have a printer at home?
A digital policy management system is much simpler. With tools like the EQS Policy Manager, companies can easily create their policies digitally and send them to all employees at the touch of a button – with targeted distribution to specific locations and departments. Employees confirm they have read the guidelines with a single click, and this is automatically documented. New employees also receive all relevant guidelines digitally. This saves an enormous amount of time, not only for the compliance department, but also for HR teams and each individual employee.
Another advantage: employees can access relevant policies at any time and from anywhere – and always have access to the latest version. This is especially important when, as is currently the case, rules are rapidly changing and guidelines on workplace safety, working from home, business trips and more need to be adapted. When existing guidelines are updated, the system automatically informs all relevant employees.
In addition, the corona crisis gives reason to put other compliance processes to the test. Are gifts and invitations checked and approved digitally? Are new business partners being digitally screened and automatically approved? If not, compliance officers should see the situation as an opportunity to set up a digital compliance program to improve rigid processes and the need for physical documents.
Seeing the Crisis as an Opportunity
Nobody could have foreseen the rapid spread of the new coronavirus. We all hope that the measures taken will significantly slow the virus‘ progression and harm as few people as possible. However, the current crisis also offers compliance officers the opportunity to push ahead with the digitalization of compliance programs, which not only enables them to remain operational in times of crisis and keep compliance risks under control, but also to future-proof the entire company.
Talk to our compliance experts. We will be happy to advise you on how to digitalize your compliance processes easily and efficiently. Just send us a message.