According to the Ethics Institute, a Whistleblower hotline allows employees to feel safe to report misconduct.
It further indicates a strong ethical culture while reluctance shows ethical weaknesses.
Whistleblowing hotlines is a key part of the organization’s ethics management program which enhances its ethical culture and transforms its mode of ethics management.
A hotline/whistleblowing program is essentially pro-active in nature.
Organizational culture which holds employees to account shows that ethical conduct is important. If an organizational culture is unethical, misconduct becomes rife.
The advantages of a whistleblower program are as follows:
- Offers a communication method beyond the rumor mill.
- Employee questions can be directed to the appropriate resource.
- An opportunity to provide guidance before poor decisions are executed.
- Serves as an “early warning” system on issues that maybe brewing within the organization.
- Serves as a last stop to whistleblowers before they can take an issue to the media or the law thus preventing reputational damage.
- A confidential arena where employees can clarify policy and discuss concerns.
The 4 pillars of an effective hotline are as follows:
- Receipt of reports from the source
- Assess the report/information provided
- Investigate the report.
- Conclude the investigation
Whistle Blowing Policy should accompany the implementation of a hotline. The policy must be simple and explain how and where misconduct can be reported with the aim of the policy being to create openness and accountability. A policy creates confidence in employees that misconduct can be reported and is dealt with. This is covered in the Protected Disclosures Act. This policy must be clearly communicated to all employees.
The policy must be simple so that all can understand, and legal terminology should be left out. The policy should contain:
- A strong commitment to a speak up culture and state that the business takes misconduct seriously.
- Commits itself to impartiality, trust and protection through whistleblowing.
- Details procedures to be followed
- Explains the authority and independence in the whistleblowing management function. Identifies the types of issues that can be reported.
- Explains that employees have a duty to report wrongdoing through the reporting channels.
- Indicates the minimum information required for an actionable report.
- Commits itself to confidentiality
- Explains the investigation process when reports are received
- States that employees may report anonymously and that should they report in good faith, they will be protected from occupational detriment, victimization and retaliation.
- Guarantees that those who abuse whistleblowers will face disciplinary action.
- States that disclosures in bad faith is a criminal offence punishable through a fine or imprisonment up to 2 years.
- Explains how the identity of the whistleblower is protected as well as the consequences of non-compliance with the policy.
- The policy will be reviewed periodically to determine effectiveness.
- If a disclosure is protected under law, the company will provide acknowledgement of receipt of the report and its intended action within 21 days. If no decision is reached, feedback will be provided as soon as is reasonably possible but within 6 months of the disclosure being made.
Employees must be trained on the policy and explained their rights and obligations. Line managers who receive these reports must be trained on how to handle these reports particularly their confidentiality.
An employer is not obliged to keep the whistleblower informed but it is good to do so. This can be done via the company providing the hotline or through a reference number given to the whistleblower.
A disclosure is any conduct of the employer or employee which has criminal intentions, is a miscarriage of justice, has environmental consequences, fails to comply with the law and constitutes unfair discrimination.