Getting employees to speak up when they see signs of wrongdoing is hard. Many employees struggle with initially "taking the plunge" (because that's how it may feel) for a very long time before finally settling on a decision to just go for it.
We've seen in the past many companies being charged with FCPA violations, and in many of these cases, the employees knew exactly what was happening. They just lacked the confidence, courage, or incentive to come forward.
Can't blame them. The repercussions can be devastating.
It's in a company's best interest to encourage their employees to come forward and report perceived wrongdoing internally. Therefore, is important for that company to work towards creating a speak up culture where employees feel comfortable about coming forward and speaking up. It's just plain smart!
Management can start this ball rolling. There are several ways to do this, starting with setting an example and learning how to manage whistleblower complaints appropriately so employees can come forward.
You Don't Want to Be One of Those High Profile Corruption Cases, Like We've Seen Over and Over, Do You?
It's important your company investigates allegations of corruption, bribery, fraud, harassment, etc. quickly and thoroughly before they blow up before your eyes to become FCPA investigations.
How do you do that?
It's the first step really. All it takes is an acknowledgement that you've received notice of the incident. That doesn't mean walking up to face the whistleblower in person and say "hey so-an-so, I just got your whistleblower complaint and I'm going to look into it". It means having a program in place where communication can take place between you (the review) and the whistleblower, continuously while the whistleblower remains anonymous. It means initially acknowledging that the report has been received and the the investigation process has started.
Address Every Allegation
By not ignoring any allegation, you're showing an interest in what whistleblowers are feeling or experiencing that made them come forward in the first place. Not all allegations may need outside help - IE stealing, harassment, etc. Some may actually be HR queries that can be passed off. IE. a coworker keeps hanging around your desk updating you every 10 minutes on their personal life. These can be handled by Human Resources. But by communicating with the whistleblower, keeping them informed of the process, goes a long way.
Determining the Need for Outside Help
Depending on the allegations that have been brought forward, you may have to determine whether you need to employ inside, or outside counsel. Bullying can be handled internally by working with all parties involved and reiterating company Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct. But more serious allegations that cross the line of the law may require a little more help and due diligence in order to keep all your ducks lined in a neat row and avoid potential violations.
Keep Communicating With the Whistleblower
To keep reiterating this, the easiest way to avoid conflict with your whistleblower, and to comfort them and prevent them from taking their story outside the company, is to continually communicate with them (again a strong system does this by keeping the whistleblower anonymous). By showing them that you care, and are taking their allegations seriously and investigating those allegation, that speaks volumes! If employees know you are working with them to right perceived wrongs, you build trust and dedicated employees.
If You Walk Away With One Tidbit From This
Don't ignore the whistleblower. It's the easiest way to avoid backlash, conflict, and possible media involvement. Whistleblowers are people, and people need constant nurturing. Now is the time to deliver on what you've promised through your Codes of Ethics and Conduct. Now's the time to showcase that amazing ethics reporting system you implemented in your organization and show your employees you mean business and you care!