Code of Conduct Training and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines

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By Shanti Atkins and Scott Schneider Apr 4, 2009

April 2009 CoverYou may ask, “What if my organization does not do business with the government?” Answer: You still need to train employees on your code of conduct.

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) requirements largely restate the basic training requirements set forth in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines (FSGs) that apply to all employers, including private, public and nonprofit organizations and those that have never and will never do business with the government (U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, § 8A.1.1, Commentary).

The FSGs are a set of rules that federal judges use when determining how severely to punish organizations that violate federal law. They require employers to adopt codes of conduct and provide companion ethics training programs that are appropriate to job responsibilities and that reach everyone from employees to senior managers, and even contractors and agents (U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, § 8B2.1(a)-(c)). Again, simply distributing your code will not satisfy the requirements.

Think training under the FSGs sounds a lot like the FAR requirements? It does. In fact, the FAR requirements were modeled after the FSGs. However, there is a big difference. The FAR amendments simply mandate training—you have to do it if you want government business. The FSGs leave the decision to employers, but add a big incentive to get employers to provide training.

In fact, under the FSGs, organizations with comprehensive code training programs may be able to avoid up to 95 percent of potential fines and penalties assessed for violations of federal law (U.S. Sentencing Comm., An Overview of the Organizational Guidelines (2004)). Given this incentive, employers of all kinds and sizes have made code training under the FSGs a “must have.”

Equally important, a training program under the FSGs is likely sufficient to meet the FAR requirements. This means that training on your code will let your organization both meet the FAR requirements and substantially lower the fines and penalties potentially available under federal law.

It’s a “one-two” punch that may be critical to your organization’s future.


Shanti Atkins is president and chief executive officer of ELT, a provider of online compliance training. Scott Schneider is ELT’s director of compliance.

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SHRM article: Taking Care of Business Contracts (HR Magazine)


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