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Why a Whistleblower Line May Not be the Only Answer

Many organizations establish a Whistleblower line to enable employees to anonymously report wrong doing.  Having an independent hotline available to employees can help alert the company to and reduce the possibility of inappropriate or illegal company actions. A Whistleblower hotline provides a confidential way for employees to present issues to management and lessens the potential for claims of retaliation. The hotline is often available 24 hours a day and can increase the likelihood of early detection and response to theft, fraud, discrimination or harassment claims, which can significantly limit liability.

This is all well and good as the Whistleblower line collects complaints and notifies the organization. That’s where the struggle begins.  As this is an office of official notice, once the organization has been notified, there may be an obligation to investigate.  Confidentiality makes it difficult to determine the extent of the matter as direct conversation with the ‘whistleblower’ is often not an option.  The result is unnecessary time and expense spent delving into issues that may look like fraud or harassment but in effect are conflict related, or could have been resolved before escalating into more serious situations.

Deepak was having difficulties as his manager was continually giving him tasks that were complicated and difficult to complete within the unrealistic time frames given.  He was required to consistently stay at work longer than his colleagues and his recent performance review indicated he needed to improve his efficiency.  Deepak had previously brought these concerns to HR who indicated that his manager had the right to expect Deepak to complete the tasks he was given.  After yet another week of working overtime, Deepak was fed up.  He knew his workplace policy indicated that the Whistleblower line was an avenue for employees to confidentially report harassment so he called the hotline.  He was reluctant to leave his name so named the manager, the department and his concern about harassment.

The establishment of a Whistleblower Line provides reliable, anonymous data collection of complaints, and ensures such issues are forwarded appropriately and tracked.  The Whistleblower line forwarded the information to the organization, leaving them obligated to check into it further.  They hired an independent investigator to meet with the manager and all department members.  They uncover Deepak’s concerns and determine that this does not meet the definition of harassment and provide recommendations for Deepak and his manager to meet and resolve the issue.  The cost for the independent investigator is $20,000.  The organization is now seeking an independent mediator to support Deepak and his manager to resolve the concern.

If Deepak had called the Ombuds Office with his concern, Ombuds staff would have had the opportunity to discuss his circumstances and provide immediate coaching.  They would have listened intently, acknowledged his concern and his difficult situation.  They would have helped Deepak understand what was important to him about how he did his work and explore his working relationship with his manager.   They would have asked questions about his understanding of workplace harassment and his options for moving forward.  They would have delved into the repercussions of his proposed solution of calling the Whistleblower line.  They would have asked about other appropriate avenues for resolving his concern.  If Deepak wanted support to have a conversation with his manager the Ombuds Office could play a role in facilitating the discussion.  The Office would support both employees to develop a viable resolution and check-in with them along the way.  The cost of involving the Ombuds Office would have been $5,000.  If Deepak had been aware of the Ombuds office services earlier in his dilemma and received the appropriate coaching to approach his manager successfully the cost may have been much less.

The Whistleblower Line may be one piece of your organizations conflict management system, but may not be the answer to proactive resolution of complaints inexpensively.  It does not provide an opportunity for employees to receive immediate coaching and support for their complaint, or an opportunity for feedback and evaluation of their situation.  These issues may be resolved more proactively through coaching and inquiry with the Ombuds Office and then referred to the Whistleblower if appropriate.

By employing this proactive practice, where employees can participate in creating a work culture that fosters candor, trust and accountability, whistleblowing becomes a last resort, seldom needed.

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