About 20 years ago, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) enacted the Federal Sentencing Guidelines (FSGs) for organizations with the intent to govern the sentencing of companies convicted of federal crimes. The FSGs, which have been amended several times, hold that organizations can act only through agents and, under federal criminal law, generally are vicariously liable for offenses committed by their agents.
A proactive approach to prevent, detect and report illegal and unethical activities can substantially reduce fines and punishment, in some cases up to 95% according to a commentary by the USSC. The USSC specifies that the two factors that mitigate an organization’s ultimate punishment are “the existence of an effective compliance and ethics program, and self-reporting, cooperation, or acceptance of responsibility.” In contrast, the absence of solid compliance mechanisms can increase fines and punishment, as verdict determination is based on “the organization’s involvement in or tolerance of criminal activity, its prior history, violation of an order, and obstruction of justice.”
The compliance incentives provided by the FSGs and the proliferation of new regulations mandate a cultural imperative for ethical and law-abiding conduct by all companies, large and small. High-level attention, leadership and sufficient resources must be dedicated to meet the strict requirements of a compliance program defined by the USSC as “effective.” In its manual, the USSC emphasizes the necessity of strong due diligence to prevent and detect criminal conduct. Among its guidelines, a provision in Chapter 8 notes that:
“The organization shall use reasonable efforts not to include within the substantial authority personnel of the organization any individual whom the organization knew, or should have known through the exercise of due diligence, has engaged in illegal activities or other conduct inconsistent with an effective compliance and ethics program.”
Comprehensive background investigations, whether for employment purposes, evaluation of prospective clients, existing relationships and third-parties, or for other business transactions, are essential for compelling due diligence which actualizes a masterful compliance strategy. Although various committees and officials are calling for a complete review of the FSGs which the 2005 landmark case U.S. vs. Booker held as discretionary rather than mandatory, well-developed compliance programs are here to stay.
Scherzer International is on the forefront of the quick-changing regulations regime with a portfolio of background investigation products designed to facilitate purposeful risk management and compliance protocols. Visit us often at www.scherzer.com as we continuously analyze and test new elements and incorporate them into our products if they have proven value. And stay tuned for a Dodd-Frank regulations product which we will introduce within the next few months.