Just when you thought the compliance audit process couldn’t be any more cumbersome or overwhelming, you learn you’ve been chosen for a Department of Labor (DOL) on-site review. This is no reason to panic, though. A DOL site visit isn’t necessarily a harbinger that your organization is in trouble.
The problem, of course, is that you can’t guess why a compliance officer is coming for an on-site review. Is it for a good reason? Bad? Neutral? If the audit is a “focused review,” for instance, the on-site visit might be necessary regardless of whether you’re being investigated. On the other hand, an audit listed as a “compliance check” means the officer has spotted something unusual that — though extremely rare — could very well expand to a full audit. In general, however, regular audits only include a site visit when the compliance officer finds indicators of potential discrimination.
Of course, you might get “lucky” and be chosen for a random DOL on-site review. These randomized checks typically focus on making sure the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) protocols are airtight. In these situations, the audit hasn’t necessarily been triggered by anything you’ve done.
In unique cases, on-site audits can be completely unrelated to the audit paperwork or findings. I recall one case in which the compliance officer found no indication of potential discrimination, and the contractor had a strong compliance program. Why was the on-site visit scheduled, then? It turns out the officer was curious to see the company’s operations because he was fascinated by the work they were doing.
Strategies for Preparing for a Site Visit
Knowing that audit site visits can occur for myriad reasons, keep the following “how to survive an audit” tips in mind if you’re told to keep a visit date open. You should also include them in your comprehensive audit checklist for future encounters with the OFCCP and DOL.
1. Ask why you’re getting a DOL on-site review.
When you hear that you’ve been scheduled for an on-site review, you have the right to ask why. Never feel uncomfortable asking why the federal government wants to visit your company. After all, it’s an inconvenience. You’ll expend resources and probably run into productivity hiccups trying to get ready.
2. Use the on-site visit to razzle-dazzle the compliance officer.
Here’s the upside of an on-site audit: You’re in the driver’s seat. The compliance officer knows little to nothing about your organization beyond what you’ve offered on paper. Use the site visit to showcase your organization’s complexities and nuances. At the same time, tidy up everything to make sure you come across as a well-run business powered by engaged employees.
3. Coordinate with partners.
Even if it’s the third time you’ve had a site review, you don’t want to go into any on-site visit without help. Coordinate with in-house legal counsel and leaders of your corporate units. Everyone needs to speak from the same script to show the compliance officer a tightly run ship humming along.
4. Treat the compliance officer with deference.
You didn’t invite the compliance officer to your organization, but you should always treat him or her with respect. Offer communal drinks and snacks, but don’t offer any pointed gifts that could seem like bribes. Consider doing other things to welcome them, though, like lowering your strict “no smoking’ policy. Many people still rely on smoking as a way to relieve stress — compliance officers included.
Hosting an on-site audit review can undoubtedly increase your anxiety, but you are equipped to handle it. Take a deep breath and start planning. With the right mindset and the tools you need to prepare, your team will make it through the on-site visit without any problems.
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