By Courtney Hogwood, Esq., CCEP
President of Cavalry Compliance Group, LLC.
We’re going to play a little game today folks, one that’s supposed to show what a day in the life of a compliance officer might look like. For this demonstration, let’s assume that you are the newest Chief Compliance Officer for the ABC Corporation. You’re freshly certified as a Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional and this is your first major leadership position. You’ve been at ABC Corp for about a year now, and you’ve done (in your mind), a great job of setting an example to your fellow coworkers about what you expect from them in terms of compliance and ethics. The attendance at your monthly “Lunch -n- Learn” events has tripled since your initial meeting, and you just received a glowing annual review from the company President. You madam/sir, are ON FIRE.
Then, with what feels like absolutely no warning, you hear that there’s been a change to a set of federal regulations. Let’s assume, that when it comes to healthcare, the President has just changed the way that health insurance is offered to you, and other employees like you, around the United States. Per the latest Executive Order, your corporation can now state that they have a religious and/or moral conviction, and refuse to provide coverage for specific medications. Your company President comes to you and wants to know how to ensure compliance with these new regulations, because they’d like to stop offering these products on the company health insurance plan. The President states that you were the first one that they’ve talked to about this, because you’ve done such a stellar job in other areas of compliance and ethics, that you should clearly be the one to help with the paperwork and draft messages to the entire company on these changes.
Million dollar question time: What do you do?
As CCO, you have an obligation to do what’s in the best interest of the company, while still making sure that the company behaves in an ethical manner. But what happens what those corporate ethics go against your own? What happens when something that the company wants to do is perfectly legal, and they want to make sure that every action they take is compliant with these new regs, but you personally have an issue with the company stance? Cue the dramatic music and the hand-wringing.
Our role as Compliance Officers isn’t to tell the company what to do, or to tell the company what we personally believe on a subject. But shouldn’t we use our personal ethics to help guide us in these types of situations? What happens when our personal ethics aren’t in line with our company’s ethics? Normally this question is easily answered when the company’s ethics are questionable, but what if they’re squarely within their “corporate rights”, and in line with current legal obligations? For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that simply quitting and getting another job isn’t an option at the moment, so you need to decide how to handle this situation HERE and NOW. Is there a way to solve this ethical dilemma?
I’d like to suggest that there is a way to a presentation to the President that is both tactful and professional, and allows you to satisfy your corporate obligation while allowing to sleep at night. How? Make a strong case for BOTH sides of the coin. Why would you do this? Because then you will know that you did everything you could within the bounds of your position, that you fought for all available options, that you fought for the right of the company but you also fought for the rights of similarly situated employees. You were able to look at BOTH the best interests of your corporation AND the best interests of the people that you share the break room with every day. Behaving ethically doesn’t always mean ultimatums, it doesn’t always mean that there’s a black and white, you’re right and I’m wrong. Sometimes it means that you have the courage to see things from all angles, and try to build a solution that allows you to rest easy when you get home from a day at battle. That’s when you know you’ve done your job to the best of your ability.
Now, this post is in no way in support of, or against, any of the recent current events. Instead, it’s meant to jog your brains into learning to think critically, but also objectively. It’s meant to show you that compliance and ethics, even when they seem to be at odds with each other, don’t have to be. You can still be a good (and ethical!) compliance officer, even in the face of adversity. This is why companies, especially in today’s world, need strong compliance officers, to be the calm in the sea of chaos, to walk the line between business and law, to give voice to reasonable alternatives and options, and to show corporate America that there is no one right answer, but a set of choices to be made every day.
What do you think? How would you handle the situation?
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