3 steps to properly handle whistleblower complaints
Providing whistleblowing channels and receiving reports are just few of the components underpinning the successful whistleblowing system. Another key component is how organizations handle the whistleblowing reports as this is related to trust.
Without employees’ trust, the whistleblowing system would be akin to nothing more than an ornament. To garner trust, organizations must first understand what factors influence employees’ decisions to refrain from blowing the whistle.
It is not easy to be a whistleblower
One thing that we all can agree on about being a whistleblower is that speaking up is not easy.
There are several fear factors that cause people to refrain from reporting. An unsupportive system, the possibility of intimidation or bullying, a lack of evidence, a closed bureaucracy, and the possibility of being reported back are all onerous and discouraging.
Apart from these factors, people grow even more afraid and hesitant to report incidents when their complaints are not followed up on.
The importance of communication and confirmation
Within the scope of the company, corporations that do not have a whistleblowing culture often ignore and mishandle reports, or even do not have a system that maintains confidentiality, which endangers the safety of the whistleblower.
Hence, organizations must first ensure that they have a policy or an established methodology to handle whistleblowing reports appropriately as a signal to the whistleblowers that their reports will be taken seriously. The policy should include, at least, the following crucial steps:
- Handle reports selectively
First, classify the report upon receipt to make sure that the reports are relevant. While some whistleblowers supply a great deal of information and actively assist in cases, many others do not want to be further involved after reporting. However, all concerns should be considered carefully. The information provided in an anonymous tip can sometimes be unclear, making the reports appear baseless at first glance. The challenge in following up on reports stems from the fact that there is sometimes very little information to go on.
Often, the quality of material provided by whistleblowers is poor, maybe because they are afraid that the information they provide will reveal their identity. The next step is requesting more information from the whistleblower.
This is challenging if the reports come from anonymous reporters as their identities are kept unknown. This can, however, be addressed appropriately, should you choose a reliable whistleblowing system third party. Through Canary’s Mute feature, whistleblowers can receive an update on their case and can be contacted for further inquiry without providing any personal information, such as an email address or telephone number, which reduces obstacles in following up on cases.
- Appoint dedicated officers
Organizations should have adequate resources to follow up on the report. This includes appointing an independent officer or a group to run an investigation. According to Mini vandePol, Head of Investigations, Compliance, & Ethics regional Asia Pasifik Baker McKenzie, appointing a dedicated officer with reporting responsibilities to a specialized board committee has the ability to increase trust and confidence in the organization’s governance and commitment to supporting whistleblowers. She also said that investigations are an important tool to ensure that a company is credibly “walking the talk” in relation to its corporate compliance program.
- Confirm the whistleblower’s report
Confirm to the whistleblower that their reports have been received, and followed up on, and that an investigation has been launched. Furthermore, explain to them everything that relates to the case, such as the enforced confidentiality and the estimated time of the investigation. These are important initial messages to make them understand that you are taking the reports seriously.
By receiving confirmation of their report, the whistleblower will feel more at ease and willing to cooperate in the following stage of inquiry. Don’t make the whistleblower wait too long for confirmation of their report, which might happen due to the lengthy investigation process. Waiting in obscurity causes them to feel stressed, which gives rise to many assumptions and questions, such as whether they made a mistake, were dismissed, their report was disregarded, or other unfavorable claims.
Cecilia Nassare, VP of Compliance in a shared micro-mobility provider company, said in ECEC 2022 “You need to update them. I’m not saying you have to tell them exactly what you’re doing, especially under investigation, but you need to update them by saying things like ‘We haven’t forgotten about you’, ‘We’re working on this, don’t worry’, ‘We are currently questioning a few people’, ‘We are trying to get more evidence’, ‘We’ll keep you updated as we go’. This is super important to keep that person away from any fear,” she added.
A company may have an excellent whistleblowing program, but if it is not communicated adequately, its employees will never know how to utilize it. Or worse, employees will choose to remain silent.