Whistleblowing Trends: What Does 2020 Look Like?

Whistleblowing Trends: What Does 2020 Look Like?

Whistleblowing has become much more mainstream and accepted over the past decade. New laws that protect employees from retaliation help them step forward to report wrongdoing. There are some recent trends that shine a light on legislation and government initiatives to encourage whistleblowers to speak up.

Good News for Whistleblowers

  • The EU Whistleblowing Directive passed in November 2019. It directs member states to protect whistleblowers with anonymous reporting channels and safeguards against retaliation
  • In the US, the SEC rewards whistleblowers who uncover significant wrongdoing with financial awards. In April 2020, one conscientious informer received $18 million
  • The UK is considering an overhaul of its whistleblowing laws, based on the findings of a 2019 report released by the All-Party Parliamentary Group. The report suggests reforms are needed to better protect whistleblowers
  • Australia passed whistleblowing legislation in July 2019, giving employees protection against retaliation

Employees Are Taking the Initiative to Speak Out

More employees are speaking out than ever before. According to the US Department of Labour, thousands of whistleblower complaints are funnelled through the federal government.

Here's a snapshot of 2019 whistleblowing statistics:

  • 2084-Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act
  • 341 - Surface Transportation Assistance Act
  • 215 - Federal Railroad Safety Act
  • 125 - Sarbanes-Oxley Act

This doesn't count the thousands of employees that have spoken out against sexual harassment, fraud, gender pay inequalities and other corporate scandals and wrongdoing.

Younger Workers Expect Companies to Protect Whistleblowers

Younger generations are coming into the workforce emboldened by courageous movements such as #metoo — which shed light on sexual harassment in Hollywood and companies across North America — and high-profile whistleblowers, such as the federal employee whose report eventually led to impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Trump.

All employees should be encouraged to speak up through mechanisms put in place by ethics officers and employee advocates. Even older generations have moved away from a tendency to remain silent for fear of retaliation.

ACFE's recent Report to the Nations shows that the vast majority of whistleblower complaints come through employee hotlines, web forms and emails, whereas traditional reporting mechanisms such as fax, mail and other methods accounted for a small percentage of complaints. Since 2010, the use of ethics hotlines and other reporting mechanisms has increased by nearly 50%. This is due, in part, to the trend of companies taking matters into their own hands and developing these channels that allow whistleblowers to make anonymous reports.

Anonymity and Communication Build Trust with Whistleblowers

Through ethics hotlines, witnesses can report wrongdoing without fear of retaliation. Chief Ethics Officers are building a company culture centred around communication, anonymity and trust. Blowing the whistle on coworkers, supervisors and corporate officers causes a lot of stress.

Organisational leaders should keep the following notes in mind when planning their whistleblowing policies:

  • Anonymity: Proactively encourage anonymous tips so whistleblowers can keep their identities secret. This is critical for cases that may go to court, lead to the dismissal of the perpetrator and involve the whistleblower's supervisor
  • Communication: Communicate that there is great value in stepping forward to tell the truth. A written policy lets employees research how to report what they've seen as well as the financial impact. This is far less public than showing up in a supervisor's office where conversations may be overheard. Explain the process and make it clear that reports are investigated thoroughly
  • Security: Work with a trusted vendor to ensure that the system is easy to use and secure. Technical security built around the whistleblowing system helps build trust and prevent perpetrators from finding out who reported them

Managing Expectations

Fraud Magazine details some whistleblowers who attempted to gather evidence and pursue allegations on their own. Ethics leaders should make it clear that the responsibility of the investigation lies with the employer. In order to keep whistleblowers in check or to avoid scaring them off, trends indicate a better system is needed to manage expectations.

When an employee exposes wrongdoing, they want to know what steps you're taking to further the investigation. Compliance officers often focus on confidentiality and cooperating with the individuals investigating the claim. Hence, communication with the whistleblower can fall threw the cracks.

Discussing a possible time-frame can appease the whistleblower's curiosity and help them feel less anxious. Scheduling regular check-ins every few weeks can help whistleblowers remain patient so ethics and compliance officers can concentrate investigations.

A Tool to Power These Trends

Choosing a global hotline company provides one of the most effective ways to manage your whistleblower policies. This offers employees a guiding hand in walking through the reporting process. An Ethics Hotline, such as Whistleblower Security provides the following benefits:

  • Global Ethics Hotline with 24/7 access to multilingual agents experienced in the whistleblowing process
  • Case Management that increases communication and transparency without sacrificing the whistleblower's identity
  • Analytics such as reports to provide leadership with the status of integrity issues

What to Look for in a Whistleblower Hotline System

Viable ethics hotlines have to do much more than take calls and record reported incidents. Trend analysis, reporting and benchmarking tools help your organization mark your progress and measure the impact of reporting fraud and other unethical activities.

For example, a searchable database lets ethics and compliance officers dynamically research issues and trends, while reports can be translated into grids or charts to aid analysis.

Here are some of the ways IntegrityCounts fulfills these needs:

  • Stores filtered views that allow case managers to drill in on important details
  • Group reporting supports analysis by location, case type and priority
  • Keyword searches on database contents, including attachments
  • Data privacy and security
  • Protection of the whistleblower's identity

More companies are embracing a speak up culture and ethics hotlines to build a positive environment that gives compliance officers valuable insight into the state of ethics in their organization.

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photo Amanda Nieweler
About the Author
Amanda writes for WhistleBlower Security about ethics, compliance, workplace culture, and whistleblower hotlines. Amanda brings her nearly two decades of risk and compliance experience to the WBS blog where she is dedicated to helping people and companies promote speak-up cultures.

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