For an organisation to have a culture that is healthy, productive and positive, all three of the above characteristics must be in place. This forms the important groundwork to enable a compliance program to perform at its best.
Having a broad understanding of the relevant laws that apply to your sector enables directors and management to understand the risks that are present within the organisation and develop a strategy to combat them.
Whilst it is widely agreed that the relationship between the CEO and the Board is of high importance, it is essential that the fundamental values within this relationship are reflected down throughout the rest of the organisation, including to middle management and front-line service employees.
A critical element of compliance and one which holds substantial risk, particularly within sectors dealing with vulnerable clients, relate to the standards and quality of services that are delivered by the organisation’s front-line staff. Recruitment practices and processes are an important element in establishing the culture of compliance from the outset. It is at the very beginning of the recruitment process that values that are important to the organisation are introduced. Those candidates that don’t align with your organisation’s values can be identified early and not be progressed further.
Despite trust, transparency and accountability being essential ingredients for any organisation to run effectively and in a compliant manner, success is ultimately measured both in terms of productivity and reputation - both of these are what will be impacted when or if something goes wrong.
When something does go wrong, and there is an allegation of neglect or abuse involving a vulnerable client, what is ‘best practice’ in dealing with this scenario?
Firstly, it is critical that the allegation is acted upon immediately. This provides the families of those that are involved with assurance that the core values that brought their loved ones to the organisation in the first place remain a priority.
From first-hand experience, the worst thing a Board and management can do is ignore early warning signs. Not only does this place vulnerable clients in danger, but it also exposes the organisation to potential prosecution for breaches and compensation claims.
I recommend that an investigation is made a priority when facing such a serious allegation Independence of the investigator is essential for its success and to ensure that the parties involved will respect the outcome. Further, using an independent investigator allows for transparency, accountability and trust.
An investigation, conducted properly, will also allow proper process to occur in a transparent and accountable manner; again the basis of your organisation’s values. It provides all parties involved with the right to be heard in a sensitive manner.
The key to a successful investigation is timely communication with all stakeholders. Clear, transparent communication throughout the process also allows confidence in the outcome and therefore, in your organisation and its integrity.
Employment law issues may also arise in the case of an allegation against an employee and should this occur, I recommended that you engage an experienced employment lawyer to assist your internal HR or management team. An employment lawyer will ensure that due process is followed and can assist the organisation with any legal action that may arise following performance measures implemented or worst case, dismissal of an employee.
Investigations are the best way an organisation can act quickly on any allegations and provide protection to vulnerable clients, staff and ultimately, the organisation and its reputation.
After all, for many in the not for profit sector, reputation is one of their organisation’s most valued assets. Failure to take allegations seriously at the outset can have costly repercussions as we’ve seen time and time again.
Joanna Andrew is a Partner of the Adelaide based mid-tier law firm Mellor Olsson Lawyers. She specialises in professional negligence, corporate governance and risk. Here, she advises Boards and Executives and undertakes Board and Director performance reviews. In addition, Joanna, with her team, also provide advice to Boards in relation to risk management and undertake internal investigations in relation to incidents and complaints with thorough reporting.
She has held a number of Non-Executive Director positions including Independent Chairman on Not-For-Profit, Sporting and Commodity Boards and Committees.
Joanna is a Facilitator for the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Company Directors Course. In 2018 Joanna was recognised as one of the “Indaily’s Top 40 Under 40 Young leaders” in South Australia.