The term conflict of interest (COI) may seem very straightforward to HR and compliance specialists, but for the employees who are required to submit COI disclosure forms, the definition may not be so clear. If your new hire orientation sessions and regular broadcast emails are producing very low disclosure rates, you may be facing a lack of understanding or a misperception over the difference between potential impropriety and actual impropriety. For many employees, the fact that no action is being taken on a COI of which they have been made aware, means that there is no COI. Consider the three obvious signs that you are facing a comprehension challenge:
Evidence of Nepotism
If your HR department is receiving personal submissions of resumes from employees recommending family members for open positions (or those recommendations are being made directly to departmental leaders), but there is no corresponding COI disclosure if any of those family members get hired, you are dealing with employees who do not understand that nepotism is a potential COI.
Evidence of Outside Employment
Employees who notify family members, friends, or business acquaintances of upcoming subcontract opportunities, and receive a commission or ‘gift’ in return, are self-dealing. If an employee has an ownership interest in a business that wins a subcontract opportunity, the potential for impropriety is even greater. If neither scenario produces a corresponding COI disclosure, you may be facing a deliberate intent to evade the disclosure process.
Evidence of Outside Employment
If an employee leverages his or her skills in earning outside work for which the company could have bid and won, you have a clear COI. Even if the work performed was for a non-profit organization, and the employee received no remuneration, the potential for impropriety still remains and the event should be disclosed as a potential COI.
Distinguishing between a genuine lack of understanding and a deliberate intent to evade the COI disclosure process can often be challenging and requires further case-specific investigation. However, simply distributing COI disclosure forms on the assumption that all employees will understand what the forms mean and how they should be completed, automatically exposes the organization to a higher risk of non-compliance and possible reputation damage.
Comprehensive training during new hire orientation is a good start, but for new employees there is often such an information overload as they seek to grasp all the rules and regulations of their new work environment, that the relative significance of COI disclosures can get lost in the mix. Regular refresher training, ideally with industry specific case examples, can help to keep the topic front-of-mind, and remind employees that any potential impropriety constitutes a COI, whether or not any action is ever taken.
Our Conflict of Interest Software on SharePoint offers the comprehensive functionality needed to keep your workforce fully apprised of the importance of full COI disclosure. Integration with Microsoft Active Directory, along with customizable automation capabilities allows all new employees to be notified of COI training, and detailed task assignment (with escalation capability for the procrastinators on your team) ensures that all assigned personnel are aware of their obligations in following through on that training. Role-based access restricts document-viewing privileges to assigned personnel only, and the real-time dashboard makes sure that all assigned tasks are managed in a timely manner.