The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) notes in their compliance guidance that an open line of communication between the compliance officer and organizational personnel is very important to the successful implementation of a compliance program and the reduction of any potential for fraud, abuse, and waste. One significant channel of communication, often not employed by compliance officers, is the use of exit interviews to debrief employees prior to their departure.
The Importance of Exit Interviews
This can identify potential compliance problems and assist in reducing the risk of “whistleblowing” by individuals after they leave the organization. As such, there is great value in debriefing those departing the job, including questions about any observed violations of law, regulation, the company Code of Conduct, or policies.
Optimally, an exit interview process should be done in time to permit possible remedial actions before the individual leaves employment. This can also be useful in avoiding or mitigating costly litigation involving regulatory compliance issues, unlawful harassment, discrimination, safety violations, etc. It is very important to keep a record of the interviews conducted and the individual’s responses.
Most organizations with exit interview programs engage Human Resources (HR) to perform the process. HR is usually very wrapped up in the exiting process which includes collecting organization property, briefing the employees on COBRA, and a variety of other tasks. As a result, HR is normally over-loaded with other requirements dealing with a departing employee and often unable or unwilling to expand this program to encompass the compliance related concerns. As such, exit interviews are often relegated to questionnaires and are not taken seriously by either the individual or the organization, resulting in information of limited or no value.
The Role of the Compliance Officer in the Exit Interview Process
Proper thought should be given to what role the Compliance Office should play in the exit interview process. It is not feasible or realistic for the compliance officer to interview all departing individuals. The question then becomes who should the compliance officer debrief? Topping the list are members of the executive and management team. If this is to become the rule, it needs to be included in a policy document that defines those who will be debriefed and formalizing the process to avoid having individuals objecting to being interviewed.
Also, the Compliance Office may need to be involved in selective interviews of individuals viewed as potential “whistleblowers” or those that have a history of anger towards the organization or registering complaints. It is far better to put issues or concerns on the record before the individual leaves. This may deter departing employees from becoming whistle-blowers after they secure new employment and are free from the fear of retaliation.
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. To be fully effective, these interviews should take place as far in advance of departures as possible.
Examples of Employee Exit Questions Sent to Strategic Management
- Was your decision to leave influenced by any compliance concerns?
- How effective was your training on the compliance program, Code of Conduct, and policies?
- Were you trained on how to report concerns and problems confidentially or anonymously?
- Did you believe that those reporting compliance issues would be protected from retaliation?
- Are you aware of any ethical or compliance issues and, if so, did you report them?
- How could the company strengthen its message regarding ethics and compliance?
- Is everyone in the work force treated fairly?
- Do you believe management fully supports the compliance program?
- Are you leaving due to any compliance concerns about your job or work environment?
- Are you aware of any improper or illegal conduct in the workplace? If so, who and what?
- Are you aware of any potential conflicts of interest involving members of management?