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The latest news headlines on issues and developments affecting the internal audit profession.

Feb. 19, 2021

U.S. Inspector General to Audit Telehealth Services

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced new telehealth-related audits at the end of January. The first set of audits target the implementation of telehealth waivers by home health agencies during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and a second group of audits will investigate a broad swath of relevant services, according to law firm Sheppard Mullin. The second set of audits will occur in two phases, with the first phase assessing whether services meet Medicare requirements. The second phase will dive deeper into Medicare Part B compliance issues related to distant and originating site locations, virtual check-in services, electronic visits, remote patient monitoring, use of telehealth technology, and annual wellness visits. Internal auditors in organizations that have implemented or bill for telehealth programs should work with the compliance function to ensure the organization is prepared for these audits.

U.K. High Court Says Uber Drivers Are Workers, Entitled to Benefits

Uber drivers in Britain should be classed as "workers" and not self-employed, the U.K. Supreme Court ruled Friday, in a decision that challenges the ride-sharing company's business model and holds broader implications for the so-called gig economy. The ruling, the culmination of a long-running legal battle, entitles Uber drivers to benefits such as paid holidays and the minimum wage, according to the Associated Press. The high court's seven judges unanimously rejected Uber's appeal against a lower court ruling, which had found that two Uber drivers were "workers" under British law. Uber has faced opposition from unions and challenges to its business model in several countries.

U.S. Rejoins Paris Climate Agreement

The U.S. on Friday officially rejoined the Paris climate agreement, a move that aligns it with almost 200 other nations working to prevent catastrophic climate change, Reuters reports. Mitigating climate risk is one of the Biden administration's top priorities, with the president having signed more than a dozen climate-related executive orders and promising to steer the country toward net-zero U.S. emissions by 2050. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said climate change and science diplomacy "is vital in our discussions of national security, migration, international health efforts, and in our economic diplomacy and trade talks." According to Reuters, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry and domestic climate advisor Gina McCarthy are working on new regulations and incentives to speed deployment of clean energy and the transition from fossil fuels.

Despite the Pandemic, CEO Confidence Is Nearing All-time Highs

A new survey, The Conference Board Measure of CEO Confidence, showed that CEO confidence in the first quarter of 2021 has reached its highest point since the first quarter of 2004. Driving much of this confidence is an expectation of increased employee wages in the next 12 months, while the potential for future layoffs has significantly receded as the COVID-19 pandemic outlook has gradually improved. According to the survey, released by The Conference Board and The Business Council, 36% of CEOs said they expect to increase wages by more than 3%, while just 12% said they anticipated reducing their workforce over the next 12 months — down from 34% in the previous survey. More concerning is the anticipation of talent acquisition issues; 49% of CEOs indicated they are having issues attracting qualified hires, which is up from 36% in the previous survey.

Feb. 17, 2021

Worldwide, Most Family Businesses Lack an ESG Strategy

Family-owned businesses lag behind publicly listed companies when it comes to a strategic approach to sustainability, Reuters reports. In a global PwC study of 2,801 family business owners, a little more than one-third said their organizations had set environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards. The overall top priorities of respondents were expansion/diversification and improving digital capabilities, rather than sustainability. According to Family Business Survey 2021, family businesses have shown a strong commitment to their employees and their communities during the pandemic, with 80% engaged in "proactive social responsibility" and most prioritizing employee retention. However, the lack of an ESG strategy indicates that family-owned businesses have an "increasingly out-of-date conception of how businesses should respond to society," PwC stated.

IT Executives Satisfied With Their Organizations' Cyber Risk Management Efforts

According to a new poll of 100 IT executives issued by access management firm OneLogin, 83% of respondents reported that they are satisfied with their company's risk management efforts as they relate to cybersecurity. While this is a significantly high figure, it seems that the level of satisfaction appears to directly correlate with the size of the organization. For example, 22% of executives from smaller companies (less than 1,000 employees) are displeased with the current state of risk management, but just 9% of their peers in organizations with 10,000 or more employees feel the same. The poll also analyzes IT executive expectations for budget increases, with 61% of respondents reporting that they expect a budget increase between 11% and 15% by the end of the first half of 2021.

EU Faces Delivery Delays With Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine, Causing Shortfall

Pfizer has not yet delivered to the European Union (EU) about 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses that were due in December, Reuters reports, quoting EU officials. The shortfall leaves EU countries about one-third short of the supplies they had expected by now from the U.S. company. The delay is another blow to EU vaccination efforts, which have faced delivery delays from Anglo-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca and U.S.-based Moderna, as well as earlier delays from Pfizer. It also raises questions about an EU export control scheme that was set up to ensure timely vaccine deliveries but has not been activated, despite the delays.

U.S. Workforce Continues to Lose Black and Hispanic Women

More than 2.1 million women have left the U.S. workforce completely since February 2020, Employee Benefit News reports. In January, while the overall unemployment rate fell to 6.3%, another 275,000 women vanished from the workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means women accounted for almost 80% of U.S. adults who stopped working or looking for work last month, Fortune reports (paywall). Of the unemployed women, 22% were Black mothers, 20% were Asian mothers, and 19% were Hispanic mothers, according to a study by WerkLabs and The Mom Project, a digital career community. Women of color have been hit the hardest not only due to the job types and industries crippled by the pandemic — including education, hospitality, childcare, and retail — but also due to increased childcare demands at home, the report (PDF) says. One-third of Black moms and one-fourth of Hispanic moms reported they are unable to work from home during the pandemic. In September, The Mom Project's not-for-profit arm, MomProject.org, announced its RISE initiative, which will provide scholarships to 10,000 women of color to earn technology certificates over the next three years.

Feb. 15, 2021

Fortune 1000 Companies Have Major Password Vulnerability Issues

A new report from cybersecurity solutions provider SpyCloud exposes how great the risk of password vulnerabilities is to the largest companies. Titled 2021 Report: Breach Exposure of the Fortune 1000, SpyCloud's research uncovered 25.9 million business account credentials and more than 543 million assets tied to Fortune 1000 employees that are available on the dark web. Telecommunications was the most vulnerable sector by far with an average of 552,601 exposed credentials per company. Additionally, the report uncovered the credentials of 133,027 C-level executives available for sale. The most common passwords used among all employees were "123456" and "password," and 76% of employees reuse passwords across personal and private accounts. "People don't seem to realize just how often their credentials end up in criminal hands or how stolen passwords can be used to access other accounts they think are safe," said Chip Witt, vice president of product management for SpyCloud.

IOSCO Gives Momentum to Global Climate Risk Standards Body

The International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) is backing the development of an international standards body for company disclosures on climate risks and sustainability, Reuters reported. IOSCO is an international coalition of securities regulators and recognized global standard-setter for the sector. According to IOSCO chair Ashley Alder, a global climate change standards body would reduce "greenwashing," the idea that companies present a more flattering picture of their sustainability efforts by "shopping around for reporting standards in ratings." Climate disclosure standards would be written by a body similar to the London-based International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation (IFRS). Alder said such a body would "build on the IFRS' proven standard-setting process for financial accounting, which rests on a rigorous governance structure to ensure public accountability and widespread acceptance."

HR Experts: Go Slowly in Making Decisions On Returning to Workplaces

As the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine continues, employees and employers are discussing the return to workplaces and what policies to put in place. But some human resources experts said it is still too soon for companies to make concrete decisions about their plans, according to TechRepublic. The return-to-work timelines will be influenced by factors such as vaccine supply and the availability of items such as syringes, gloves, and personal protective equipment, the experts said. In addition, companies are watching the spread of the variants of the Coronavirus.

Israeli Study Shows Real World Vaccine Effectiveness

Israel's largest health-care provider, Clalit, released the results of a study comparing 600,000 people who received two doses of the Pfizer's vaccine against a control group who had not received the vaccine, according to Reuters. The study found a 94% drop in symptomatic COVID-19 infections and a 92% reduction in likelihood to develop severe illness from the virus among those who had received the vaccine. "It shows unequivocally that Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine is extremely effective in the real world a week after the second dose, just as it was found to be in the clinical study," said Ran Balicer, Clalit's chief innovation officer. Israel has been conducting a rapid vaccine rollout and maintaining a database about effectiveness, while countries scramble to secure vaccine doses amid supply chain struggles in the U.S. and other countries, Reuters says.

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