Companies have finally come to realize that institutional justice and fairness are perhaps the most basic tenet of any successful workplace. If employees believe they will be treated fairly, it will engender a level of trust that can work to not simply motivate employees but lead to a more successful workplace and, at the end of the day, a more profitable company. This encompasses the entire lifecycle of the employment relationship, from hiring through separation. It works in areas as seeming disparate as compensation and incentives, discipline, promotion and internal reporting.

On this final point, Kyle Welch and Stephen Stubben, in their 2019 paper entitled “Evidence on the Use and Efficacy of Internal Whistleblowing Systems”, noted that a robust whistleblower reporting system speaks to a functioning and ethical corporate culture. Employees who can report issues, in a fair manner, without fear of retaliation are more empowered to make the company run more efficiently and more profitably. Yet an equally interesting finding was where there was robust internal reporting, employees were more likely to speak up to improve overall business processes, thereby making the company more profitable.

An often-overlooked role of any CCO or compliance professional is to help provide employees with institutional justice. If your compliance function is seen to be fair in the way it treats employees, in areas as varied as financial incentives, to promotions, to appropriate and consistent discipline meted out across the globe; employees are more likely to inform the compliance department when something goes array. If employees believe they will be treated fairly, it will go a long way to more fully operationalizing your compliance program.

Three key takeaways:

  1. The DOJ and SEC have long called for appropriate and consistent application of both incentives and discipline.
  2. The Fair Process Doctrine will help set institutional justice as the norm in your organization.
  3. Inconsistent application of discipline will destroy your compliance program credibility.