As I end this month of the Land of 1000 podcasts, I conclude with a week of King Arthur and his Roundtable themed-podcasts. It turns out there are many compliance lessons from the entire oeuvre of Arthurian legends. Many of the tales can inform your (modern day) compliance program. Today we consider that most Arthurian piece of furniture, the Round Table.

The Round Table is the famous table in history; around it he and his Knights congregated. Its shape implies that everyone who sits there has equal status. Wace, who relied on previous depictions of Arthur’s fabulous retinue, first described the Round Table in 1155. The symbolism of the Round Table developed over time; by the close of the 12th century it had come to represent the chivalric order associated with Arthur’s court, the Knights of the Round Table.

As with all things Arthurian, the origins of the Round Table are a bit murky. One commentator claims Arthur created the Round Table to prevent quarrels among his barons, none of whom would accept a lower place than the others. Others believe it came to prominences as a symbol of the famed order of chivalry that flourished under Arthur. In Robert de Boron’s Merlin, written around the 1190s, the wizard Merlin creates the Round Table in imitation of the table of the Last Supper and of Joseph of Arimathea’s Holy Grail table. This table has twelve seats and one empty place to mark the betrayal of Judas. This seat must remain empty until the coming of the knight of purity and chastity who will achieve the Grail. When the Knight Percival comes to the court at Camelot, he sits in the seat and initiates the Grail quest. Whatever the origins of the Round Table, it may be the single most tangible item associated with King Arthur.

I thought about these concepts surrounding the legend of the Round Table in consideration of whistleblower awards paid out by the SEC to compliance professionals. The first one was an anonymous award to a whistleblower who was in the company’s internal audit and compliance function. Daniel Hurson noted at the time that this initial whistleblower payment to a compliance practitioner marked a change in SEC policy because “It has generally been understood that compliance officers and internal auditors are not permitted to receive whistleblower awards because information they reported to a superior, constituting allegations of misconduct was not to be considered “original information” under the Dodd-Frank Act and SEC rules.”

The next award to a compliance professional was reported by Sam Rubenfeld in the Wall Street Journal, where he said the award was paid “to a compliance officer who provided information that helped the SEC in an enforcement action against the tipster’s company, marking the second time a compliance professional received an award under the SEC’s whistleblower program.”

This un-named whistleblower took his (or her) concerns internally to management but was not successful in persuading management to cease the illegal practices. Moreover, “The compliance officer had a reasonable basis to believe disclosure to the SEC “was necessary to prevent imminent misconduct” from causing “substantial financial harm” to the company or investors, the SEC said.” The FCPA Blog, in a post entitled “Compliance officer awarded $1.5 million under SEC whistleblower program”, reported, “After that award, Sean McKessy, then chief of the SEC’s whistleblower office, said employees who perform internal audit, compliance, and legal functions can be eligible for an SEC whistleblower award “if their companies fail to take appropriate, timely action on information they first reported internally.”” This second award makes clear that the SEC will treat compliance professionals as all other whistleblowers when it comes to making an award based upon the fine or penalty.

King Arthur’s Round Table may have been designed so that all Knights were treated as equals. As noted in some of the legends the Round Table is part of the Holy Grail quest storyline, requiring purity of heart and chastity to achieve the Grail. Both strands of the Round Table legend inform the debate on whistleblowers. What will be your response?

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