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New Federal Prosecution Standards Require Revisions to Investigation Policies

Impact of the Yates Memorandum on Civil Enforcement Liability

Yate Investigation Policy RevisionThe infamous Yates Memorandum revised Federal prosecutorial policy to place more of a focus on individual wrongdoing. Federal prosecutors now have clear directions from the top of the DOJ to consider individual liability prior to resolving any investigation or reaching settlement with respect to corporate wrongdoing. The Yates memorandum extends beyond federal agents who are considering criminal charges against companys or individuals. The Memorandum specifically states that the concept of consideration of individual liability should extend to governmental subdivisions that are responsible for assessing potential civil liability, monetary penalties, program exclusion and other remedies short of criminal prosecution. Government actors are compelled to consider individual monetary responsibility regardless of whether or not the individual has the ability to satisfy the potential award.

Clearly the stakes have gone up for individuals who are involved in companies that commit wrongdoing. In order to receive benefits of having cooperated with governmental investigators, a company must provide all information relevant to individual liability. This requires the company to conduct a robust internal investigation of all potential subjects and to bring the investigation to resolution with respect to each such individual. As a practical matter, when allegations of wrondoing are made, a company investigation will need to broadly consider potential wrongdoing of any employee for which there is any reasonable basis to believe may have been involved in wrongdoing. The incentive of the company will be to be overly broad in its consideration of potential investigatory subjects. This means that corporate employees are exposed to a much higher risk of coming onto the radar of a possible internal investigation. If the individual raises to the level of being a possible “subject,” the investigation will go even further.

In effect, Federal policy regarding prosecution and civil remedies has placed the company’s compliance program in the position of having to broadly consider potential wrongdoing of its employees whenever issues are identified. This is not only to avoid potential criminal exposure, but also to mitigate potential claims for civil liability under the False Claims Act, monetary penalty regulations and other possible civil exposure. This change in Federal policy has a number of impacts on the compliance and ethics program of the company. Of primary importance is the process that is used by the company to investigate employees and contractors who are potential individual wrongdoers. In the past, corporate employees could normally rely on not being the target of criminal or civil liability because the focus was largely on corporate liability. Investigation policies were naturally geared toward gathering information from employees who were more or less alligned with the interests of the company. This dynamic has now changed. A company will much more frequently be in a position of having to hunt for individual wrongdoing and disclosing that wrongdoing to governmental investigators as a condition of receiving cooperation benefits.

This makes it significantly more important for the compliance program to include detailed and standardized processes for conducting internal investigations and reporting the results. Frankly, most compliance investigation policies are not adequately robust to mitigate risk under the new Federal enforcement regimen. Company compliance officers should be reviewing their investigation policies now to bring them up to the standards that are required under the new Federal policy. The standardized investigation process should be defined in detail. There should be detailed requirements for providing corporate “Upjohn” warnings to employees who are questioned. Guidelines for maintaining privilege should also be considered among other items.

Perhaps most importantly, companies should not be lulled into thinking that nothing has changed. The change in federal enforcement policy is an issue that must be brought to corporate management, compliance committees, and the board of directors. In short, this is a “board-worthy” issue that requires action to be taken to at least review, and in most cases make significant revisions, to investigation policies and perhaps other aspects of the corporation’s compliance program.

John Fisher, CHC, CCEP

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John H. Fisher

Health Care Counsel
Ruder Ware, L.L.S.C.
500 First Street, Suite 8000
P.O. Box 8050
Wausau, WI 54402-8050

Tel 715.845.4336
Fax 715.845.2718

Ruder Ware is a member of Meritas Law Firms Worldwide

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