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The Coronavirus Changes Everything

by Kirsten Liston

The pandemic is creating new ethical and technological challenges for companies. Our Founder and Principal shares three compliance communications you can use right now.

There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen. - Vladimir Lenin

I don’t know about you, but I did not see the sudden, massive changes of the coronavirus coming. Not like this, not at this level.

But, pace Lenin, two weeks ago already seems like a year at this point.

On Monday, March 9th, I was writing the SCCE to say I wouldn’t be coming to speak at the NYC Regional conference. Over the weekend, the governor had declared a state of emergency, and the situation was developing fast.

By Tuesday, as the news kept coming in, I had decided to self-isolate at home. The SCCE conference moved online.

You know what happened next because you lived through it, too.

These days, virtually everyone I talk to is working from home. Kids are home 24/7. Some people are stuck where they don’t live. Some households are sheltering in place indefinitely. We’re all bracing for the impact of what’s ahead.

For many people and companies, priorities have changed, almost overnight.

But business also continues. It has to. And for compliance professionals, the job doesn’t stop, even in the face of world-historic events. In fact, some things become more urgent.

Last weekend, Harvard Business Review published an article about a national survey of 14,500 employees across industries and demographic categories.

The goal was to learn how Americans experience work. Among other things, the survey asked how often people felt pressured to act unethically and to what extent they were afraid to speak up.

It turns out 23% of the respondents – or nearly 1 in 4 – felt pressured to act unethically, either sometimes or always.

The root causes of the pressure? Making the organization look better, time pressures, and productivity goals.

All the survey work was done pre-coronavirus. In other words, that is where we started.

Compliance professionals know that economic downturns can reveal misconduct that was previously hidden. (As Warren Buffet has famously said: “When the tide goes out, you can tell who’s not wearing a bathing suit.”)

And hard times for a company – or an entire industry – can create new incentives for breaking the rules.

With that in mind, and taking a hard look at the new reality we’re all living in, we have three suggestions for compliance communications you might want to deploy now.

1. Alert people to the IT risks of working from home.

Wired magazine says the “coronavirus sets the stage for hacking mayhem.”

There has been a flood of people moving to work from home, sometimes with little notice – sometimes in jobs that previously would not have been remote, due to the nature of the information they handle. Many homes have lighter security defenses than offices.

At the same time, cyberattackers are using the virus to launch phishing scams, including embedding malware in attachments that are purportedly about public health. As the Wired article puts it: “In times of stress or distraction, people are more likely to fall for malicious scams and tricks.”

Here at Rethink, we’ve put together a short, engaging training that acknowledges this reality and reminds people of good IT practices. You can roll this off the shelf or quickly and easily customize it to reflect your IT recommendations and practices.

You can even use it to set the stage for a more detailed communication from the IT team.

And if you have employees working with private information, we’ve created a version of this communication that will let you reinforce the importance of protecting privacy and connect it to good information security practices.

2. Remind people about the insider trading rules.

Company fortunes are changing by the day.

Some businesses are booming – Amazon is hiring 100,000 new workers; WalMart is hiring 150,000 temporary workers; UPS drivers are working 12-hour shifts to complete their routes.

And anyone who bought Zoom stock in 2019 is feeling pretty smart right now.

Other companies have seen sharp and sudden downturns.

If you work at a public company, especially at one where your outlook has shifted dramatically, many more employees than usual may be in a position to know material, inside information — and they should be reminded not to trade on that information or to tip others to do it.

Here at Rethink, we’re using our video wrapper format to help clients get a quick, concise, compelling message out in under seven minutes – including a two-minute explainer video.


We also highlight some scenarios specific to the current circumstances — from employees buying or selling stock in their retirement accounts to someone scrambling to cover a margin call.

Any of these scenarios can be customized so that they reflect the current circumstances and likely risks in your business.

3. Address respect and anti-bullying in the virtual workplace.

Interpersonal compliance risks don’t stop when people are out of the office. In fact, tele-working and a shift to connecting virtually can introduce new ways to bully, harass, or exclude people.

In the office, the peer pressure of being in a public space can help keep bullying in check. This changes when bullies can hide behind a screen in their own home and make their attacks without others knowing.

When people are isolated at home, bullying, harassment, or discriminaton can feel even more personal — right at a time when many managers are still trying to figure out how to lead from a distance.

As with the two pieces above, our respect communication is short but comprehensive — designed to help you get a clear and direct message out quickly.

When people are isolated at home, bullying, harassment, or discriminaton can feel even more personal — right at a time when many managers are still trying to figure out how to lead from a distance.​

As we undergo a massive shift in workplace culture and changes in our everyday lives, it’s good practice for compliance leaders to reinforce to employees that some things have not changed:

  • The company remains committed to doing business with integrity.
  • It’s important to treat one another with respect.
  • And we all need to be responsible with the information in our control, whether it is confidential information about the company, personal information about individuals, or inside information .

As employees adapt and priorities shift, it can be a challenge to keep up with the right compliance messages. We can help. Want to see a preview of our courses? Or just want some guidance about where to start? Email us at hello@rethinkcomplianceco.com.

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