The business world is far different than it was half a century ago. Today, we live in an age of unparalleled access to information, where the internet and social media platforms have made it possible for consumers, competitors, and regulators to know more than ever before about a company and the people who work there. For that reason, it’s more important than ever for businesses to maintain their integrity and ethical transparency. Having policies that inform employees how to disclose conflict of interest is vital to this mission.
One major issue at the center of many business ethics discussions is the presence of conflicts of interest, or situations in which an employee’s personal or financial interests conflict with their responsibilities to the organization for which they work. Besides the serious ethical ramifications conflicts of interest can pose, they could cause serious reputational and, in many cases, legal damage to a corporation.
The best way to manage potential conflicts of interest in the workplace is to monitor them and mitigate any dangers they may pose, but you won’t know your employees’ potential conflicts unless you ask. In this article, we’ll delve into how to disclose conflict of interest in the workplace, and what that disclosure process should entail.
Creating a Policy for How to Disclose Conflict of Interest
When considering how to disclose conflict of interest at your company, you need to determine what the best disclosure process for your workplace should look like. Consider factors like frequency of disclosures—how often are you asking employees to share information about potential conflicts? Also consider to whom the disclosure process will actually employ. Will all employees within your organization be asked about potential conflicts? Or just individuals who perform certain roles or work on specific projects?
Consider also what information you want to relate to employees about how to disclose conflict of interest. Employees should first and foremost be made aware that they have a duty to disclose a conflict to your organization. You should also define how the company would communicate with an employee who does disclose a conflict, and how that potential COI will be investigated by the company. Employees should also be informed what actions will be taken to mitigate the conflict’s impact, as well as any disciplinary consequences of an employee failing to disclose or resolve a COI.
Many businesses, when faced with deciding how to disclose conflict of interest within their organizations, create a customized conflict of interest disclosure form to distribute to relevant employees. Any form distributed for conflict of interest disclosure should contain clear, structured guidelines. They should also be distributed, worded, and received in such a way that completely ensures confidentiality.
When establishing the COI disclosure process, you should be asking yourself questions about how to disclose conflict of interest in the best way for your organization. But you should also be considering what questions you want to ask participants in the process about those conflicts. As you configure questions for the disclosure process, consider whether you want those questions to be the same for all respondents, or to be tailored based on the participant. For example, will all employees who participate in the disclosure process be asked the same questions? Or will different scenarios, or employees in different sectors or departments, require specialized question sets?
Why not give them the 29 Essential COI Questions?
No matter how you structure it, ideally any conflict disclosure form you distribute should require employees to disclose the following information:
- Timing and Duration: Participants should provide dates of when the potential conflict began and when it ended (if applicable). For example, if the conflict in question concerns former employment or consultancy, the employee would include the dates of the job or consultancy in question. Employees should also note whether the conflict they’re disclosing is ongoing, or was a one-time occurrence.
- Nature of the conflict: Conflict disclosure should include detailed information on the nature of the conflict of interest being disclosed. The information required will be different, depending on what the conflict in question actually is. Most conflicts of interest tend to fall into one of the following categories: Financial interest, employment or consultancy, personal or familial relationships, gifts or favors, and use of company resources, information, or intellectual property (IP).
- Employee steps toward mitigation: After giving detailed and actionable information surrounding the nature of a potential conflict, the employee should also be given the option to detail any actions they may have already taken to address the conflict that they have disclosed. They should also outline any additional steps they think should be taken, or at least considered, to further manage the disclosed conflict.
Gathering information about possible conflicts of interest in a workplace is an important step; what’s even more important is what you do with that information. After receiving responses from all parties asked to disclose potential conflicts, next comes evaluating the impact of the conflicts of interest employees have disclosed. How serious are these conflicts? How likely is it that they will pose an immediate problem or risk in the workplace, in the long-or short-term? Based on that information, your organization should move forward by establishing clear, enforceable guidelines for managing the conflicts that have been identified. When doing so, try to identify measured, appropriate courses of action to mitigate any risks or potential risks.
ComplianceBridge Makes COI Disclosure Easy
If you’re wondering how to disclose conflict of interest in the workplace, the answer is simple: With the right tools. ComplianceBridge offers a centralized software solution designed to create the best conflict of interest disclosure process for your business.
Use ComplianceBridge high to create custom COI disclosure question sets that suit the unique needs of your organization. The software supports a wide variety of question types, from short answers to multiple choice, and everything in between. Employers can also add conditional questions that only appear depending on how a previous question was answered, or weighted questions to give certain responses more importance during scoring.
You can then view employee responses in real time, either by looking at how a single employee answered all questions or how all employees answered an individual question, making it easier to identify trends or places that may need more focused attention. You can also generate reports and export them for further analysis in other applications, or for use in presentations.
For more information on how ComplianceBridge is your best option for efficient and optimized conflict of interest disclosure, contact us for a demo today!