What Pet Should I Get?Earlier this month we had the release of a second book by Harper Lee, “Go Set a Watchman”, which was miraculously discovered having been written some 50+ years ago. This week, there was another release from a (now deceased) author from a newly discovered source. I of course refer to the release yesterday of the new Dr. Seuss book “What Pet Should I Get?, published Random House, which informs today’s compliance lesson.

The book was discovered by Seuss’ widow, as noted in the Sunday New York Times (NYT) Book Review article, entitled “Dr. Seuss Book: Yes They Found it in a Box, when she decided to “have the rest of his notes and sketches appraised, that they closely examined the contents of that box. They found a set of brightly colored alphabet flash cards, some rough sketches titled “The Horse Museum,” and a manila folder marked “Noble Failures,” with whimsical drawings that he had been unable to find a place for in his stories. But alongside the orphaned sketches was a more complete project labeled “The Pet Shop,” 16 black-and-white illustrations, with text that he had typed on paper and taped to the drawings. The pages were stained and yellowed, but the story was all there, in Dr. Seuss’ unmistakable rollicking rhymes.” This finding became the book, What Pet Should I Get?

Reading this discovery made me ponder about how a child would pay for the pet they wanted and of course my thoughts turned to that age-old parenting quandary – the allowance. It is always a question of great interest for both parents and children. As with many things involving parent/child relationships, my views have evolved. As a teenager, I certainly had the view that an allowance was a God-given right and the more the better. I would only note that my parents did not share those views. As the father of a teenaged daughter, my views reached the much fuller expression of spoiling my daughter as often as possible. Which one is correct? I still do not have a final answer.

I thought about the ongoing debate and dialogue over the allowance when I read the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) against Mead Johnson Nutrition Company (Mead Johnson). The matter was resolved via SEC Administrative proceeding that concluded with a Cease and Desist Order being agreed to by the parties. Mead Johnson agreed to pay a fine of $12.3MM which consisted of profit disgorgement of $7.7MM, prejudgment interest of $1.26MM and a civil penalty of $3MM. Kara Brockmeyer, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA Unit, said in a SEC Press Release, “Mead Johnson Nutrition’s lax internal control environment enabled its subsidiary to use off-the-books slush funds to pay doctors and other health care professionals in China to recommend its baby formula and give the company marketing access to mothers.”

The enforcement action turned on violations of the accounting provisions of the FCPA. This is where the ‘allowance’ issue comes into the discussion. According to the Cease and Desist Order, “certain employees of Mead Johnson China improperly compensated HCPs, who were foreign officials under the FCPA, to recommend Mead Johnson’s infant formula to, and to improperly provide contact information for, expectant and new mothers.” One of Mead Johnson’s sales channels in China was through distributors. To facilitate this illegal conduct, funding to the distributors, called the “Distributor Allowance”, was diverted to make illegal payments. The Cease and Desist Order stated, “Although the Distributor Allowance contractually belonged to the distributors, certain members of Mead Johnson China’s workforce exercised some control over how the money was spent, and certain Mead Johnson China employees provided specific guidance to distributors concerning the use of the funds. Mead Johnson China staff also maintained certain records related to Distributor Allowance expenditure by distributors. In addition, Mead Johnson China used some of the funds to reimburse Mead Johnson China’s sales personnel for a portion of their marketing and other expenditures on behalf of Mead Johnson China.”

This tactic was clearly a violation of the company’s books and records obligations under the FCPA. By doing so, Mead Johnson was able to hide its payments to doctors and health care providers (HCPs) from not only regulators but the company’s shareholders as well. As the Cease and Desist Order noted, the company’s “records were incomplete and did not reflect that a portion of Distributor Allowance was being used contrary to Mead Johnson’s policies.” Finally, the Cease and Desist Order concluded, “Up through 2013, certain Mead Johnson China employees made payments to HCPs using funds maintained by third parties. These funds and payments from the funds were not accurately reflected on Mead Johnson China’s books and records. The books and records of Mead Johnson China were consolidated into Mead Johnson’s books and records. As a result of the misconduct of Mead Johnson China, Mead Johnson failed to make and keep books, records, and accounts, which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflected its transactions as required by Section 13(b)(2)(A) of the Exchange Act.”

However Mead Johnson did not stop with books and records violations. The Distributor Allowance manipulation allowed the China business unit to “improperly compensate HCPs was contrary to management’s authorization and Mead Johnson’s internal policies. Mead Johnson failed to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that Mead Johnson China’s funding of marketing and sales expenditures through third-party distributors was done in accordance with management’s authorization.” Once again the Cease and Desist Order concluded, “Up through 2013, Mead Johnson failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls to ensure that Mead Johnson China’s method of funding marketing and sales expenditures through third-party distributors was not used for unauthorized purposes, such as improperly compensating Chinese HCPs to recommend Mead Johnson’s products. As a result of such failure, the improper payments to HCPs occurred contrary to management’s authorizations, in violation of Section 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act.”

In an interesting twist Mead Johnson, based on an allegation of potential FCPA violations in China, performed an internal investigation on its China unit in 2011 and came up with no evidence. Somewhat dryly the SEC noted that the company did not make any self-disclosure around these allegations and “did not thereafter promptly disclose the existence of this allegation in response to the Commission’s inquiry into this matter.”

Yet after a second internal investigation in 2013 they turned up evidence of FCPA violations, the company “undertook significant remedial measures including: termination of senior staff at Mead Johnson China; updating and enhancing financial accounting controls; significantly revising its compliance program; enhancing Mead Johnson’s compliance division, adding positions including a second senior-level position; establishing new business conduct controls and third party due-diligence procedures and contracts; establishing a unit in China that monitors compliance and controls in China on an on-going basis; and providing employees with a method to have immediate access the company’s policies and requirements.”

While there was no statement regarding self-disclosure, the company did cooperate extensively with the SEC after the company was called to task. The Cease and Desist Order noted, “Mead Johnson subsequently provided extensive and thorough cooperation. Mead Johnson voluntarily provided reports of its investigative findings; shared its analysis of documents and summaries of witness interviews; and responded to the Commission’s requests for documents and information and provided translations of key documents. These actions assisted the Commission staff in efficiently collecting valuable evidence, including information that may not have been otherwise available to the staff.”

There are several lessons to be learned from the Mead Johnson enforcement action. If it was not clear from the GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) imbroglio in China in 2013-14, your internal investigation must be thorough. Performing an investigation, finding no FCPA violations only to have a regulator sitting on your shoulder and later finding such evidence is never good. The SEC also reaffirmed its clear intention to continue to enforce the accounting provisions of the FCPA, with or without a parallel Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement action. Companies must also take heed on their internal controls. Clearly certain China business unit employees had developed a work-around of the compliance internal controls by requiring the distributors to use their allowances to pay bribes. Internal controls must not only exist but they must be effective. That means you have to test their effectiveness, not simply tick the box that you have put them in place.

Finally, and I think Dr. Seuss’ compliance lesson is that when you give out an allowance, while you may restrict some of its uses, you certainly should not direct where the money is spent. Every kid knows that if you are told where to spend your allowance, it is really not your allowance. Perhaps Mead Johnson would do well to remember that long lost lesson from childhood.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

MifuneIt was announced last week that actor Toshirō Mifune (1920-1997) will be honored with a star bearing his name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce will add the star in 2016, together with new stars in the motion picture category for Quentin Tarantino, Michael Keaton, Steve Carell, Bradley Cooper, Ashley Judd and Kurt Russell. For those of you who may not have heard of Mifune, he was a veteran of sixteen films directed by Akira Kurosawa as well as many other Japanese and international classics. His films with Kurosawa are considered cinema classics. They include Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, High and Low, Throne of Blood, Sanjuro, and Yojimbo. While there are many great, great performances in these films, my personal favorite is Yojimbo where Mifune plays an un-named Ronin, who cleans out a village infested by two warring clans. The film was the basis for the great first Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood Spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars. 

I had always thought that the Hollywood Walk of Fame honors actors but it turns out that it honors a great many more performers. For instance, next year will also see names like LL Cool J, Cyndi Lauper, Shirley Caesar, Joseph B. “Joe” Smith, Itzhak Perlman, Adam Levine, and Bruno Mars added in the music category. I considered this category of entertainers wider than simply actors when I recently read more about the burgeoning scandal in Brazil around the state owned energy company Petrobras and its ever-growing fallout.

The fallout has extended far beyond Petrobras, Brazil and even the direct parties who may have been involved. In an article in the Financial Times (FT), entitled “Petrobras woes loom large in Shell deal for BG”, Joe Leahy, Jamie Smyth and Christopher Adams reported on how the ongoing matter is affecting the world of super sized mergers and acquisitions. The rather amazing thing about this issue is not that British Gas (BG) has been caught up in the scandal or even has been alleged to paying bribes to Petrobras.

Rather it is because of assets that BG has in its portfolio. The article said, “Brazil has the potential to become the location of the most troubled assets in BG’s portfolio because the UK company is partner to Petrobras in some of the vast pre-salt oilfields off the country’s east coast in the Santos Basin.” This has led to speculation that “There is a risk that Petrobras will struggle to fulfill its mandate as sole operator for all new pre-salt oilfields because of the corruption scandal, and that this leads to delays in developing the deepwater discoveries, including those involving BG.”

This development arising out of the Petrobras scandal is so significant that BG mentioned it in their annual report, saying “In Brazil, we are closely monitoring how the current corruption allegations affecting Petrobras may impact the cost and schedule of the Santos Basin [pre-salt] development because of supply chain disruption and/or capital and liquidity constraints placed on Petrobras.” Think about that statement for a moment. It is only in the annual report because it could have a ‘material’ effect on BG and BG is a company being acquired by Shell to the tune of £55 million. However, as noted in the FT article, “many analysts say that Petrobras, partly because of the magnitude of the scandal, does not have the capital or management bandwidth to be the sole operator of all new pre-salt fields.”

What if Petrobras becomes unable to develop enough resources to feed South America’s largest democracy’s need for energy? In 2014 alone, the company posted a new loss of $7.4 billion, of which $2.5 billion was attributable to the ongoing bribery and corruption scandal. How much will it cost the country of Brazil to bring in outsiders to develop its own natural resources? This is a real possibility and it was further driven home by another FT article by Joe Leahy, entitled “Petrobras plans 37% cut in investment”. Petrobras currently is required by Brazilian “government policy forcing it to import petrol at international prices and sell it in the domestic market at a subsidized rate.”

Things can only get worse as Leahy reported that the company announced it “was cutting its projection for investment in 2015-2019 to $130.3bn or by 37 percent in relation to its previous plan.” This would lead to a reduction in “domestic production to 2.8m barrels per day of oil equivalent by 2020 from the previous target of 4.2m.” The article ended by noting that Petrobras would “divest $15.1bn in assets and undertake additional restructuring and sales of assets totaling $42.6bn in 2017-18.”

All of this certainly bodes poorly for the citizens of Brazil. For those who claim that bribery is a victim-less crime; I would point to this as Contra-Example A. But this information is also of significance to any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner for a US, UK or other western country. Not only must you review any contracts you had with Petrobras and any of its suppliers; now you must digger several levels deeper. If you are in an acquisition mode, you not only need to look at the contracts of your target to see if they may have been obtained through bribery and corruption, the simple fact of having a contract with Petrobras may put your potential portfolio asset base at risk. For if Petrobras has to cut back 37% on investments at this point, chances are it will only get much worse. This 37% reduction is based on only the first round of estimates of the cost to the company of the bribery scandal.

But more than simply contracts directly with Petrobras, if you are evaluating a target who has contracts with Petrobras suppliers, you may be at equal risk. Not only could those suppliers obtain their contracts with Petrobras through bribery and corruption, those same contracts, even if valid, may not be worth their estimated value if Petrobras cannot fulfill them or even worse, pay for the goods and services delivered thereunder. How about payment terms? Do think for one minute, Petrobras would not unilaterally extend payment dates out 30, 60, 90 even 180 days when it finds itself in more bribery and corruption hot water?

Finally, I think there is a very good chance the US Department of Justice (DOJ) or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) could come knocking, unannounced, for any US company doing business with Petrobras or even with significant operations in Brazil. The SEC could do something as simple as send a letter requesting clarification of your internal controls or books and records regarding subcontractors or other third parties in Brazil. If you received such a letter, would you be in position to respond from the requirements for a public company under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?

Toshirō Mifune had a long and distinguished acting career. While it is not clear how long, how far and how deep the Petrobras corruption scandal will reach, it is clear that its repercussions will extend far past the energy industry or even Brazil. You need to review and be prepared to respond now.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

Like a Rolling StoneToday we celebrate one of the seminal achievements in rock and roll for it was on this day, 50 years ago, in 1965 that Bob Dylan recorded his single Like a Rolling Stone. Columbia Records executives initially rejected the song as too long to be released as a single because it came in at over 6 minutes in length. However, through a campaign of subterfuge, Dylan’s manager was able to have it played by New York City DJs. The popularity of the song became so great that the same Columbia Records executives were forced to release it and it went to Number 2 on the Top 40.

According to the site ThisDayInHistory.com, “The most important impact of “Like A Rolling Stone” was not commercial but creative. Rolling Stone magazine said Dylan “transformed popular song with the content and ambition of ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’” Or as Bruce Springsteen said of the first time he heard it, “[it] sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind.”” And my favorite part is the opening organ riffs played by a 21-year-old Al Kooper who was just sitting in on the session.

I thought about this odd convergence that came together to create what Rolling Stone magazine named as the greatest song of all time in 2004 in the context of the continuing fallout from the ongoing scandal involving the governing body of international soccer, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). In a BBC Online article, entitled “Fifa corruption: South Africa cash ‘worrisome”, Andrew Harding wrote “A key figure in South Africa’s football World Cup bid has broken ranks with the government to suggest there might be some truth to a claim that a $10m bribe was paid to secure the 2010 tournament.” That figure is Tokyo Sexwale who was “a member of both the World Cup bid team and local organising committee”. Sexwale has now questioned whether the $10MM payment made to Jack Warner of Trinidad was truly a donation.

Sexwale went on to ask, “”Where are the documents, where are the invoices, where are the budgets, where are the projects on the ground?””

I thought about those questions in the context of a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner working under a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act compliance program around charitable donations. There has been a paucity of FCPA enforcement actions around charitable donations. Both the Schering-Plough Corporation and Eli Lilly and Company enforcement actions centered in Poland were Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) civil enforcement actions based upon violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions to the FCPA. There was no evidence of bribes being paid which rose to criminal conduct.

Generally, it is assumed that if you do the required review of the charitable organization that is due to receive a corporate donation and in this due diligence, there is no tie to a government official or family member, the donation can be made under the FCPA. However consider Sexwale’s comments around the evidence of whether a bribe was paid to Warner or if it was simply because “part of the feeling at the time – it’s a good thing, this [$10MM of] altruism (towards the African diaspora in the Caribbean)”. Yet even Sexwale noted the problem when he added, “The question is going to be: “What was done to make sure that your good intentions – you as the giver – have been realised?””

His comments gave me pause to think that companies who make charitable donations in foreign countries may now have to monitor these donations at a greater level and with greater scrutiny. The starting point may now well be as stated by Sexwale, “What was done to make sure that your good intentions – you as the giver – have been realized?” If this is now a standard of enquiry and oversight the Department of Justice (DOJ) will require validation on how your company can have assurances that your good intentions are realized? Once again you can look to the basic questions that Sexwale posed in the BBC online article, Where are the documents, where are the invoices, where are the budgets, where are the projects on the ground?

There have been four Opinion Releases around charitable donations under the FPCA. Opinion Release 95-01 was a request from a US-based energy company that planned to donate $10MM for equipment and other costs to a medical complex that was under construction near a large construction project. Opinion Release 97-02 dealt with a request from a US-based utility company who planned to donate $100K for construction and other costs to a government entity that proposed to build an elementary school near a facility. Before releasing funds, the utility company required certain guarantees from the government regarding the project, including that the funds would be used exclusively for the school. Also, the donation was directly to the foreign government and not a charity. Opinion Release 06-01 dealt with money to fund a pilot project in which the US Company would contribute $25,000 to the in country Ministry of Finance to improve local enforcement of anti-counterfeiting laws. The contribution was intended to provide incentive awards to local customs officials, needed because the African country involved was a major transit point for illicit trade and the local customs officials have no incentive to prevent the contraband. Finally, Opinion Release 10-02focused on the underlying due diligence engaged in by a US-based Micro Financial Institution (MFI) operating in an unnamed Eurasian country. The Release specified the three levels of due diligence that the US MFI had engaged in on the proposed locals MFIs which were listed as eligible to receive the funding. In addition to the specific discussion of the due diligence performed by the US MFI and noting the controls it had put in place after the funding was scheduled to be made the DOJ also listed several of the due diligence and/or controls that it had previously set forth in prior Opinion Releases relating to charitable donations.

While these Opinion Releases certainly imply a level of scrutiny at the post donation level, their primary focus is on who the donations are being made to and are they a government official. However, the DOJ may well expect both pre and post donation scrutiny, along the lines of Sexwale’s questions, which could demonstrate the legitimacy of the donation. However Sexwale’s questions also raise up something that the DOJ and SEC often say, that being that a good anti-corruption compliance program is really just good business. Shareholders and investors have the right to know how and where their money is begin spent. It would seem to behoove any company to want to the know the same thing that Sexwale wants to know about the $10MM payment to Jack Warner, What was done to make sure that your good intentions – you as the giver – have been realized? 

To hear the original version of Like a Rolling Stone on YouTube, click here.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

Economic DownturnI continue my exploration of actions you can take to improve your compliance program during an economic downturn with a review of what my colleague Jan Farley, the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) at Dresser-Rand, called the ‘Desktop Risk Assessment’. Both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) make clear the need for a risk assessment to inform your compliance program. I believe that most, if not all CCOs and compliance practitioners understand this well articulated need. The FCPA Guidance could not have been clearer when it stated, “Assessment of risk is fundamental to developing a strong compliance program, and is another factor DOJ and SEC evaluate when assessing a company’s compliance program.” While many compliance practitioners have difficulty getting their collective arms about what is required for a risk assessment and then how precisely to use it; the FCPA Guidance makes clear there is no ‘one size fits all’ for about anything in an effective compliance program.

One type of risk assessment can consist of a full-blown, worldwide exercise, where teams of lawyers and fiscal consultants travel around the globe, interviewing and auditing. Of course this can be a notoriously expense exercise and if you are in Houston, the energy industry or any sector in the economic doldrums about now, this may be something you can even seek funding for at this time. Moreover, you may also be constrained by reduced compliance personnel so that you can not even perform a full-blown risk assessment with internal resources.

However if there is one thing that I learned as a lawyer, which also applies to the compliance field, it is that you are only limited by your imagination. So using the FCPA Guidance’s no ‘one size fits all’ proscription, I would submit that is also true for risk assessments. You might try assessing other areas annually, through a more limited focused risk assessment, literally while staying at your desk and not traveling away from your corporate headquarters.

Some of the areas that such a Desktop Risk Assessment could inquire into might be the following:

  • Are resources adequate to sustain a culture of compliance?
  • How are the risks in the C-Suite and the Boardroom being addressed?
  • What are the FCPA risks related to the supply chain?
  • How is risk being examined and due diligence performed at the vendor/agent level? How is such risk being managed?
  • Is the documentation adequate to support the program for regulatory purposes?
  • Is culture, attitude (tone from the top), and knowledge measured? If yes, can we use the information enhance the program?
  • Disciplinary guidelines – Do they exist and has anyone been terminated or disciplined for a violating policy?
  • Communication of information and findings – Are escalation protocols appropriate?
  • What are the opportunities to improve compliance?

There are a variety of materials that you can review from or at a company that can facilitate such a Desktop Risk Assessment. You can review your company’s policies and written guidelines by reviewing anti-corruption compliance policies, guidelines, and procedures to ensure that compliance programs are tailored to address specific risks such as gifts, hospitality and entertainment, travel, political and charitable donations, and promotional activities.

You could assess your company’s senior management support for your compliance efforts through interviews of high-level personnel such as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), General Counsel (GC), Head of Sales, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and all Board, Audit or Compliance Subcommittee members to assess “tone from the top” and their actual knowledge about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and your compliance program. You can examine resources dedicated to compliance and also seek to understand the compliance expectations that top management is communicating to its employee base. Finally, you can gauge operational responsibilities for compliance.

Such a review would lead to the next level of assessment, which would be generally labeled as communications within an organization regarding compliance. You can do this by assessing compliance policy communications to company personnel but even more so by reviewing such materials as compliance training and certifications that employees might have in their files. If you did not yet do so, you should also take a look at statements by senior management regarding compliance, such as actions relating to terminating employees who do business in compliance but do not make their quarterly, semi-annual or annual numbers set in budget projections.

A key element of any best practices compliance program is internal and anonymous reporting. This means that you need to review mechanisms on the reporting of suspected compliance violations and the actions taken on any internal reports, including follow-ups to the reporting employees. You should also assess whether those employees who are seeking guidance on compliance for their day-to-day business dealings are receiving not only adequate but timely responses.

I do not think there is any dispute that third parties represent the highest risk to most companies under the FCPA, so a review of your due diligence program is certainly something that should be a part of any risk assessment. But more than simply a review of procedures for due diligence on third party intermediaries, you should also consider the compliance procedures in place for your company’s mergers and acquisitions (M&A) team; focusing on the pre-acquisition phase.

One area that I do not think gets enough play, whether in the FCPA Inc. commentary or in day-to-day practice is looking at what might be called employee commitment to your company’s compliance regime. So here you may want to review your compliance policies regarding employee incentives for compliance. But just as you look at the carrots to achieve compliance with your program, you should also look at the stick, in the form of disciplinary procedures for violations. This means you should see if there have been any disciplinary actions for employee compliance violations and then determine if such discipline has been applied uniformly. If you discipline top sales people in Brazil, you have to discipline your top sales folks in the US for the same or similar violations.

This list is not intended to be a complete list of items, you can pick and choose to form some type of Desktop Risk Assessment but hopefully you can see some of the areas you can assess. My suggestion is that you try identifying and focusing on core compliance components in your organization. Obviously there are probably a million things you could fix. However, you cannot fix everything, so you must make a decision about your primacies, and then act on them. A Desktop Risk Assessment may well help you to do so.

As with the other suggestions I have put forward during the Economic Downturn Week series, if you perform an annual Desktop Risk Assessment with a full worldwide risk assessment every two years or so, you should be in a good position to keep abreast of compliance issues that may change and need more or greater risk management. Moreover, when funds and resources do become available to you and the compliance function, you will have a stronger program and one which move towards best-in-class. Finally, do not forget that the FCPA Guidance ends its section on risk with the following, “When assessing a company’s compliance program, DOJ and SEC take into account whether and to what degree a company analyzes and addresses the particular risks it faces.” By using the Desktop Risk Assessment during an economic downturn, you can answer any regulator who asks what have you done to manage the risks in your company, by using the resources and tools that were available to you.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

Golden Gate BridgeToday, we celebrate one of the greatest engineering achievements of the century. On this date in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge opened. At 4200 feet long, it was at the time the world’s longest suspension bridge. But not only was it an engineering and architectural milestone, its aesthetic form was instantly recognized as classical and to this day is one of the most iconic structures in the US if not the world. With just a few years until its 80th birthday, it demonstrates that a lasting structure is more than simply form following function but contains many elements that inform its use and beauty.

I use the Golden Gate Bridge as an entrée to my continued discussion on the series on steps that you can use in your compliance program if you find yourself, your company or your industry in an economic downturn. Whether you are a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner, these steps are designed to be achieved when you face reduced economic resources or lessened personnel resources going forward due to a downturn your economic sector. Yesterday, I discussed mapping your current and existing internal controls to the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program so that you can demonstrate your compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’s (FCPA) internal control prong to the accounting procedures. Today I want to discuss the issues surrounding the inevitable layoffs your company will have to endure in a downturn.

In Houston, we have experienced energy companies laying off upwards of 30% of their workforce, both in the US and abroad. Employment separations can be one of the trickiest maneuvers to manage in the spectrum of the employment relationship. Even when an employee is aware layoffs are coming it can still be quite a shock when Human Resources (HR) shows up at their door and says, “Come with me.” However, layoffs, massive or otherwise, can present some unique challenges for the FCPA compliance practitioner. Employees can use layoffs to claim that they were retaliated against for a wide variety of complaints, including those for concerns that impact the compliance practitioner. Yet there are several actions you can take to protect your company as much as possible.

Before you begin your actual layoffs, the compliance practitioner should work with your legal department and HR function to make certain your employment separation documents are in compliance with the recent SEC v. KBR Cease and Desist Order regarding Confidentiality Agreement (CA) language which purports to prevent employees from bringing potential violations to appropriate law or regulatory enforcement officials. If your company requires employees to be presented with some type of CA to receive company approved employment severance package, it must not have language preventing an employee taking such action. But this means more than having appropriate or even approved language in your CA, as you must counsel those who will be talking to the employee being laid off, not to even hint at retaliation if they go to authorities with a good faith belief of illegal conduct. You might even suggest, adding the SEC/KBR language to your script so the person leading the conversation at the layoff can get it right and you have a documented record of what was communicated to the employee being separated.

When it comes to interacting with employees first thing any company needs to do, is to treat employees with as much respect and dignity as is possible in the situation. While every company says they care (usually the same companies which say they are very ethical), the reality is that many simply want terminated employees out the door and off the premises as quickly as possibly. At times this will include an ‘escort’ off the premises and the clear message is that not only do we not trust you but do not let the door hit you on the way out. This attitude can go a long way to starting an employee down the road of filing a claim for retaliation or, in the case of FCPA enforcement, becoming a whistleblower to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), identifying bribery and corruption.

Treating employees with respect means listening to them and not showing them the door as quickly as possible with an escort. From the FCPA compliance perspective this could also mean some type of conversation to ask the soon-to-be parting employee if they are aware of any FCPA violations, violations of your Code of Conduct or any other conduct which might raise ethical or conflict of interest concerns. You might even get them to sign some type of document that attests they are not aware of any such conduct. I recognize that this may not protect your company in all instances but at least it is some evidence that you can use later if the SEC (or Department of Justice (DOJ)) comes calling after that ex-employee has blown the whistle on your organization.

I would suggest that you work with your HR department to have an understanding of any high-risk employees who might be subject to layoffs. While you could consider having HR conduct this portion of the exit interview, it might be better if a compliance practitioner was involved. Obviously a compliance practitioner would be better able to ask detailed questions if some issue arose but it would also emphasize just how important the issue of FCPA compliance, Code of Conduct compliance or simply ethical conduct compliance was and remains to your business.

Finally are issues around hotlines, whistleblower and retaliation claims. The starting point for layoffs should be whatever your company plan is going forward. The retaliation cases turn on whether actions taken by the company were in retaliation for the hotline or whistleblower report. This means you will need to mine your hotline more closely for those employees who are scheduled or in line to be laid off. If there are such persons who have reported a FCPA, Code of Conduct or other ethical violation, you should move to triage and investigate, if appropriate, the allegation sooner rather than later. This may mean you move up research of an allegation to come to a faster resolution ahead of other claims. It may also mean you put some additional short-term resources on your hotline triage and investigations if you know layoffs are coming.

The reason for these actions are to allow you to demonstrate that any laid off employee was not separated because of a hotline or whistleblower allegation but due to your overall layoff scheme. However it could be that you may need this person to provide your compliance department additional information, to be a resource to you going forward, or even a witness that you can reasonably anticipate the government may want to interview. If any of these situations exist, if you do not plan for their eventuality before you layoff the employee, said (now) ex-employee may not be inclined to cooperate with you going forward. Also if you do demonstrate that you are sincerely interested in a meritorious hotline complaint, it may keep this person from becoming a SEC whistleblower.

Just as the Golden Gate Bridge provides more to the human condition than simply a structure to get from San Francisco to Marin County, layoffs in an economic downturn provide many opportunities to companies. If they treat the situation appropriately, it can be one where you manage your FCPA compliance risk going forward.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015