Supervision critical in preventing employee fraud
As economic conditions worsen, employers that cut back on supervision and communication face a growing risk of employee fraud, warns workplace relations lawyer Chris Molnar.
First line of defenceRobust accounting systems and processes, including strong internal and external audit processes, are the first line of defence in combating fraud, Molnar says. "The system, including the accounting personnel, should be set up and structured to ensure that transactions, including receipt of payments, are appropriately validated and checked internally by the accounting system and also, as required, by more than one person."
An appropriate authorisation system for payments and transactions - particularly high risk or significant payments - needs to be developed and enforced, he says. Levels of authority, and sign-off policies, should be created and adhered to.
Supporting the accounting systems should be an effective board-level oversight process, to ensure checks on the CEO and senior managers.
Communication and supervision vitalOften, Molnar says, cases of employee fraud occur when the offending worker has been permitted to work on their own without adequate supervision or accountability.
For this reason, effective communication and supervision should be a key part of any fraud prevention system.
"Accountabilities and responsibilities between workers and their supervisors need to be formalised and implemented. Supervisors need to audit their subordinates to ensure they are complying with systems."
Molnar recommends that workers - both employees and contractors - should be effectively inducted into the systems and procedures which prevent fraud, and that the original induction be refreshed from time to time through training, particularly if there are changes to the processes.
Contracts, he says, need to emphasise that workers have a legal obligation to comply with the policies of the business on authorisations, communication, records management, accounting, audit, and email and internet usage.
"The detail of these obligations should not be fixed," he says. "The contract should enable these obligations to be varied by the business as policies and operating procedures are changed to meet new and varied circumstances. Such contracts should also protect the confidential information and intellectual property of the business.
"Clear contractual obligations perform the dual task of communicating to the worker the expectations of the business and, if there is a breach, enabling the enforcement of the expectation."
Record managementMost businesses will need some form of record management system (RMS), Molnar says.
"The existence of an effective RMS will often be critical in being able to prove employee misconduct, possibly as part of an investigation process, which may lead to a lawful termination of employment and may enable the employer to resist third party claims or establish an insurance claim in relation to any loss."
The RMS should outline:
The RMS should also address (in conjunction with the business's email and internet policy, which should have regard to proper usage and issues of privacy):
Stress test the systemMolnar urges employers to "stress test" their fraud prevention systems by hypothesising potential fraud scenarios.
"It's all very well to theoretically develop these systems and structures, but you need to think of some working examples of what an employee can do... and work out 'if that happens, what part of our systems will pick that up, and what parts of the systems won't pick it up? Where do we need to improve?'"
If fraud does occur, the systems in place should detect it quickly and take action to preserve the evidence and deal with the worker.
"It will be important that the business has a process of quickly engaging computer forensic experts who can preserve electronic documentation before it is altered or lost by well-meaning - but possibly inadequately qualified - IT departments or co-workers."
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