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What is Compliance and Why Should You Care?

schedule 21st December 2017 by Ben Piper in Virtual College Last updated on 24th April 2018

Colleagues gathered around computer

Compliance is sometimes seen as a business buzzword that doesn’t have a lot of meaning, but that is far from the case, and this interpretation often comes about because many people don’t quite understand what it means. In reality, compliance is something that almost any employees will come across in their day-to-day role at work. It’s a word that covers just about any and all of the regulations that you have to follow while you’re at work because of the industry you’re in, whether you’re an employer or employee. Read on to find out more.


Compliance shouldn’t be confused with just any workplace rules. While you may well set your employees certain rules that they have to be compliant with, or if you're an employee, you’ll no doubt have rules that you have to follow, these aren’t what’s generally considered compliance (there are exceptions which we’ll cover in a second).

Compliance in the context we’re talking about, is almost always used to mean the practice of following regulations that the authorities have set. These authorities may well be the government, regulatory bodies, or industry organisations. Just about any business will have regulations that they have to follow, from basic health and safety laws to industry-specific standards.

In practice then, there are two elements to compliance:

  • The compliance with externally set rules and regulations
  • Complying with policies that have been put in place to adhere to those external rules and regulations

In many cases, large organisations will have a compliance department. This is particularly common in the financial services industry for instance where there are lot of regulations set out by the FCA, the government and even the EU. It’s the job of the compliance department to make sure the entire organisation is compliant. In smaller companies, there might be a compliance officer, or the role will be spread throughout a variety of people.

Non-Compliance Implications

Failure to comply with regulations can mean very different things in different situations and industries. If for instance your business is part of an accredited body, and they fail a compliance test, then this might mean that they are no longer accredited. This can be damaging, but not necessarily catastrophic. On the other hand, failure to comply with life-or-death regulations such as those covering fire safety could mean criminal prosecution, if not significant fines.

If we take GDPR for example (which you can read more about here), fines for non-compliance can be tens of millions of euros.

Ultimately, the regulations that compliance has to deal with are generally about keeping people and money safe, and the punishments for not doing so can be harsh accordingly. You might not want to care about compliance, but it is often essential, no matter what level you’re at in the business.

Common Workplace Considerations

As previously mentioned, compliance in the workplace can be very common indeed. Here are a few of the main areas in which you may have already thought about compliance, even if you didn’t know you were.

  • Health and Safety - Probably the most common workplace compliance consideration, this mean making sure you’re following any government guidelines on things like having a first aid kit or trained first aider.
  • Fire Safety - Do you have fire safety signage in your place of work, such as fire escape signs and escape route maps? These are all part of fire safety compliance, and pertain to almost all businesses.
  • Data Protection - Compliance teams up and down the country will be well underway with their planning and implementation for GDPR, but there are already lots of things you have to do to comply with the Data Protection Act.

To find out more about compliance in the workplace, including details on how you can get training to make sure that you’re compliant with some of the most common UK-wide and industry specific regulations and laws, visit our compliance section by clicking here.

Related resources

Ben Piper - Virtual College

Author: Ben Piper

Ben is a member of the Virtual College marketing team. He has a degree in economics and writes about business and education issues. In his spare time he loves food, drink and films.

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