2015 Trends: #2 Dealing with Conflicting Legal Requirements: Guns, Drugs and Marriage in the U.S.A.

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We asked industry experts, colleagues and compliance officers what they believe will be the top issues impacting workplace ethics and corporate compliance programs in 2015. We gathered their best thinking and prepared our annual summary of trending issues and the steps you should consider taking as you plan for the coming year. We’ll share each of the trends here over the next few weeks.


It may sound like a description of a new reality-based TV show, but we’re actually referring to the very real issue of how you address hot-button risk areas when legal requirements are in conflict. Of course this issue is not completely new. Global companies have always needed to reconcile conflicting laws and cultural norms. But now a compliance matrix of overlapping and conflicting laws is impacting far more companies—especially in the U.S.

Consider the legalization of marijuana. Under U.S. federal law, the use, distribution and manufacturing of marijuana is illegal. But some states now permit recreational use, and many more allow medical use.

Similarly, over the past two years, there has been a sea change in the treatment of same-sex spouses under both federal and state law. Now that federal law and the laws in 35 states and the District of Columbia recognize marriage equality for same-sex spouses, employers must review and possibly change their policies and practices especially as they pertain to their leave policies and employer-provided benefits.

Gun laws also vary state to state. An increasing number of states have passed laws that limit property owners' ability to ban firearms. Under such laws, companies can ban firearms in the office or on the factory floor, but they can't always ban guns that are stored in vehicles in the parking lot. Whether these laws escalate or help prevent workplace violence has become a point of contention and sometimes mark a cultural and political divide within organizations.

Given the conflicts, employees and managers need guidance. Organizations that operate in multiple jurisdictions must balance safety risks, legal exposure and possibly do some soul searching to ask critical questions about their organization’s values and culture.

Global companies facing jurisdictional conflicts most often create one, high-level, company-wide standard, usually included in their code of conduct, with a caveat that in some instances local or regional laws may take precedent. A statement is usually included in the code that places the responsibility on employees and managers to be familiar with local laws that may apply, and to ask questions when in doubt. These companies also rely on country-specific communications, policies and training to clarify expectations.

Key Steps For Organizations To Take:

1) Stay informed. The legal landscape is changing rapidly. Make sure you fully understand the law in the jurisdictions where you operate. Enlist the help of local legal liaisons to keep you up-to-date.

2) Be clear on your organization’s legal obligations. For instance, are you required to follow federal law? Does your industry dictate a strict policy?

3) Take into consideration your organization’s values and culture. For instance, what is your organization’s position on marijuana use (even if it is legal)? Does your corporate culture or values statement already lend itself to a position on marriage equality?

4) Don’t assume that your views on these matters or the views of your close colleagues represent all of your organization’s employees. You may be surprised. When assessing employee opinion, include key stakeholders who must implement the policy and keep in mind that some employees likely will have a different point of view than yours. While this may not have an impact on policy development, it can affect culture. Some may not feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their opinions with management, but your actions may have a significant impact on their morale and behavior.

5) Develop targeted communications and training for those impacted by jurisdictional conflicts. Often the most successful way to implement such training is to have local managers give the training—both to ensure cultural clarity and local relevance as well as to enforce that these policies are priorities of the business team, not just the ethics and compliance team.

6) Identify exceptions. For example, should you enforce a zero-tolerance drug policy for safety reasons? What about an employee's drug use during off-work hours?

7) Update outdated policies and identify unauthorized policies. Implement a policy management system that allows you to:

  • Control permissions and authority levels on drafting, redlining and distributing policies.
  • Track, report and archive policies
  • Inspect and audit policies
  • Mine your data to find deviations from policies
  • Take corrective action for misconduct, including updating policies
  • Document that these steps have been taken

Chat with a solutions expert to learn how you can take your compliance program to the next level of maturity.


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We asked industry experts, colleagues and compliance officers what they believe will be the top issues impacting ethics and compliance in 2015. We gathered their best thinking and prepared our annual summary of trending issues and the steps you should consider taking as you plan for the coming year in our whitepaper, “Top Ten Ethics & Compliance Predictions and Recommendations for 2015.” In this blog post series, we’ll explore each of the trends from the paper, starting with Trend #1: Increasing Pressure to Maximize the ROI of Ethics and Compliance Programs.

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