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Ombudsmen Are Valuable Supplement to Compliance Efforts

BNA, Inc. Prevention of Corporate Liability Current Report Volume 18, No. 5

June 21, 2010

Authors: Charles L. Howard

When the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines for organizations were revised in 2004, a concept incorporated in Section 8B.2.1 of the Guidelines was periodic monitoring and auditing of the effectiveness of an organization’s compliance and ethics program.

The tools that have become the standard for best practices have served organizations well for those who are willing to come forward with compliance issues. Compliance officers are in charge of continuing risk assessment and investigating allegations of misconduct. Hotlines are available for people who wish to remain anonymous or who simply want to file a report, and whistleblower policies are in place to deter and punish any retaliation for good-faith reporting.

These tools, however, have limits to their effectiveness in dealing with a worker who is reluctant to come forward out of lack of knowledge of the process or because of fear of retaliation. They also do not provide an optimal solution for someone who just wants answers without starting an investigative process or who just wants someone with whom to talk about an issue—whether or not it is a compliance issue. While an organizational ombudsman cannot take the place of any of these other tools, it can provide a valuable supplement to them.

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