With the pandemic’s knock-on effect lingering and a cost of living crisis underway, many challenges are on the horizon for businesses of all sectors and sizes. As with any economic crisis, the situation presents an opportunity for bribery, corruption and fraud to thrive.
It might sound obvious that employees should not engage in illegal conduct, but a business is better protected if it has policies in place with unequivocal statements about doing business in accordance with the law. As well as clear standards about how the business will deal with cases of wrongdoing.
Now’s the time to be proactive with senior leadership and check you have policies in place to protect the business.
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Consider when you last updated your employee handbook and conduct policies. Ask yourself: are they up to date? Are they fit for purpose? Do they contain clear behavioural standards and examples of what’s expected? And are those standards routinely communicated to the workforce?
Too many companies realise that there are gaps in their policies when things go wrong, which is often too late.
What policies do you need to include to protect the business and its employees?
Very few policies are mandatory under English law. Companies with employees must implement policies that address discipline and dismissal, grievances and health and safety.
Since the introduction of GDPR companies must also provide employees with certain information about how the company uses personal data.
These are the bare minimum and companies should implement policies that cover much more. Consider, for example, whether you have policies governing bullying and harassment, the use of social media, an email and communications policy, and policies that deal with wrongdoing, such as fraud, bribery and anti-competitive practices.
Does my company need an anti-bribery policy?
No, but it is best practice to have one. If your business operates in a high-risk country or industry you should conduct a bribery risk assessment when designing your bribery policy.
If the company is caught up in an investigation, having a fit-for-purpose policy (as well as other procedures), helps a company to defend itself against a criminal charge under Section 7 of the Bribery Act that it failed to prevent bribery in its business (using the so-called ‘adequate procedures’ defence).
What about fraud?
Again, it is not mandatory to have an anti-fraud policy in place but it is worth considering whether your policies clearly articulate the company’s anti-fraud stance.
Currently, there is no equivalent to the Section 7 Bribery Act offence for fraud, but that may change in the future as the government is considering proposals for new criminal offences for companies.
How your policies protect you and your employees
Fit-for-purpose and up-to-date policies help employees understand what the company permits and expects. Companies benefit because they have clear standards for all and rules to point to if things go wrong.
The best company policies are living documents that set out overriding expectations about how a business should be run, with more detailed rules to address particular issues.
They should be regularly reviewed, readily accessible to employees and circulated from time to time to ensure that everyone is reminded of what you expect.
If you already have bribery and fraud policies in place, ask yourself if they work for your business and are up to date. If you don’t have one in place, it’s something to get on to – it’s better to do the work now to avoid picking up the pieces later if things go wrong.
Steve Melrose is senior investigations and compliance lawyer at Bellevue Law