The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) in its compliance guidance calls for the development of effective lines of communication with employees. The OIG notes that an open line of communication between the compliance officer and personnel is very important to the successful implementation of a compliance program and the reduction of any potential for fraud, abuse and waste. High on the list of channels that organizations are encouraged to implement is the use of hotlines (including anonymous hotlines). However, the OIG stresses the importance of other channels such as e-mails, written memoranda, newsletters, and other forms of information exchange to maintain these open lines of communication.
Tom Herrmann, JD, a nationally recognized expert on compliance and former in the Office of Counsel to the Inspector General says that “The OIG believes that the major purpose of having multiple lines of communications is keep aware about business practices and conditions in the workplace, particularly those that might result in wrongful acts. I have found that a sound operating departing employee interview program can be very helpful and useful in monitoring workplace compliance. It also has the benefit of assisting in an affirmative defense to litigation or enforcement action, by evidencing diligence in preventing wrongful actions and remediating them when reported”.
Carrie Kusserow, an expert on compliance and former owner of one of the largest hotline service companies in the country makes the point that “Although a very significant channel of communication, debriefing departing employees has not been specifically cited in any of the OIG compliance guidance documents. This type of program has been part of many human resource management offices for decades, in order to gather data for improving working conditions and retaining employees. It has been useful to identify and take actions to correct deficiencies, reduce turnover, identify potential compliance-related problems, and maintain a productive work environment. Hotlines are used for similar purposes to provide employees to register reports on problems; however a properly designed and constructed exit interview program can also provide early warning that something may be wrong in an operational area. Furthermore, it may deter departing employees from becoming whistle-blowers after they secure new employment and are free from the fear of retaliation and provide vital information to higher authorities in a position to act upon it”.
Jillian Bower, Compliance Resource Center who has worked with many organizations on establishing a variety of compliance communication channels explained that “For exit interviews to be fully effective as a compliance tool, it requires someone to actually engage in a debriefing the person and not just having them fill out another form. Furthermore, this also should be done as far in advance of their departure as possible to enable acting upon information before they leave the control of the organization. It should never take place as a last day process where employees obtain their last payroll check, turn in employer property, information regarding COBRA, and sign various documents, as the employee will not likely consider it a serious encounter and won’t provide full or candid information”.
Kashish Chopra, JD, an experience compliance program advisor with Strategic Management Services, observes that “the person who conducts the exit debriefing is important. In many cases, it should NOT be the supervisor of the person, as that person may have been a causal factor in leaving. That would not lead to a very productive interview result. This leaves some other manager, someone from human resources, or the compliance office to do the debriefings”.
Suzanne Castaldo, JD, with more than 10 years experience with such issues warns that “She has found that human resources is normally over-loaded with other requirements dealing with a departing employee and generally are often unable or unwilling to expand this program to encompass the compliance related concerns. This means that the burden for a decision to institute such a program may devolve upon the compliance office; and they may be unable to undertake such a responsibility”.
Thus we have a potentially valuable communication avenue that could prevent major problems from developing; however there is the resource commitment question as to whether it can be justified. Organizations have made different decisions on this when considering utilizing the departing employee debriefing as a compliance prevention tool.
Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.
Copyright © 2016 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.