How to Make a Whistleblower Disclosure Policy

A whistleblower disclosure policy lets employees know that you as an employer are committed to ethical behavior and that if they have knowledge or evidence of illegal or unethical corporate behavior, they will be protected from retaliation for coming forward with it. The whistleblower act is something that every company needs to address, because it is a strong part of the Social aspects in ESG reporting. But a strong commitment to ethical behavior starts with leading by example from the top of an organization on down.

25 Tips for a Whistleblower Disclosure Policy

1. Put whistleblower policies in writing

Your company may already have a code of conduct or ethics manual that covers whistleblower policy, but it’s always best to be proactive and put your firm’s whistleblowing expectations in writing. This will make it easier for employees who see wrongdoing to know what is expected of them and how the company will protect and support them if they come forward.

2. Make sure managers are trained in whistleblower procedures

Many organizations give all employees training in their disclosure policies, but fail to offer the same support and protection to managers. A survey of more than 200 whistleblowers by Tully Rinckey PLLC found that 63 percent believed their company did not have a culture where employees could feel safe reporting potential misconduct to higher-ups.

The best way to avoid this problem is by training all managers in the proper procedures for handling disclosures, not just when they happen but when problems or allegations are brought forward by employees during performance reviews.

3. Clearly define who can make reports

Not everyone knows that your company has a whistleblower policy, so it’s important to communicate to all of your employees who qualifies under the policy. When establishing the guidelines for reporting wrongdoing, you should give examples of people who would be protected.

4. Let employees know where they can report problems

No matter how well-educated employees are about whistleblower policies and procedures, there is always a chance that they could be confused about how to handle a particular situation. That’s why it’s important to let them know exactly where they should go if they have knowledge of illegal or unethical activities in the workplace.

5. Offer confidentiality when appropriate

Whistleblowers are often concerned that their employers will retaliate against them for coming forward, so it is important to make it clear that as much as possible, the information they share will be kept confidential. In some cases, confidentiality might not be possible—for example, if someone reports illegal activity during a legal proceeding—but employees should know that their identities will be protected to the fullest extent allowed by law.

6. Set up a process for addressing employee complaints

Companies sometimes require employees who want to file a complaint to go through particular people or departments, but this can be intimidating and difficult. It is much better for employees if they know there is a specific process available, and that any manager will follow it. When an employee reports wrongdoing, supervisors should immediately take steps to investigate the claim and resolve the problem.

7. Have a plan for employees who are retaliated against

Even when managers have gone through whistleblower training, it is possible that they will retaliate against an employee who has reported wrongdoing. That is why it’s important to make sure all your managers know the consequences of retaliation, and set up a way for employees to report any incidents without fear of retaliation themselves.

8. The ethics office should be independent from the compliance department

Some companies’ whistleblower policies are tied to the company’s compliance efforts, but this can put whistleblowers at risk. If employees see that reporting illegal behavior could lead them to lose their jobs, they will not come forward with information. It is better for whistleblowers if they know that if they report a problem, the ethics office will be independent from the compliance department.

9. Make sure employees understand their rights as whistleblowers

In addition to clearly defining who can make whistleblower complaints, it is important to make sure employees understand what protections are available under company policy. In many cases, these protections can extend past an initial disclosure, and whistleblowers should know this.

10. Remain transparent about the process of a whistleblower report

Some companies feel that talking too much about their whistleblower policies can make employees less likely to share information, which is why they are tight-lipped about it. However, employees might be more willing to come forward if they see that the company has protections in place, and that it has implemented them fairly. Making sure that employees understand the process for making a report can inspire confidence that their concerns will be handled properly.

11. Have an ombudsman available to answer questions

Even if whistleblowers receive all the protections under company policy, they might still have concerns about retaliation or other issues after filing a complaint. That’s why it is important to have an ombudsman available to answer questions and address concerns about the process. If employees see that there is someone who can help them navigate difficult experiences, they will be more likely to continue coming forward with information.

12. Follow up with whistleblowers later on

Even if very little happens at first after a whistleblower complaint is filed, it’s important to follow up with them a little later on. This can reassure employees that their concerns are being taken seriously and give them an opportunity to provide more information or make sure the company understands the issue at hand.

13. Make it easy for whistleblowers to reach out

Some businesses require whistleblowers to reach out through an email address or a particular person, but this can make them feel like they are being monitored. Instead, it’s better to let whistleblowers call from their own phone numbers and give a name that the company will recognize. This will help ensure that employees can reach out with concerns without worrying about retaliation.

14. Find a way to keep whistleblowers informed

Even if they don’t hear back immediately, whistleblowers want to know what is happening with their reports. If managers agree to let them know about updates on the situation, it will show that the company is taking their concerns seriously and will inspire more people to come forward in the future.

15. Be proactive about getting information from all employees

Whistleblowers are often the first to see illegal behavior, but there might be other employees who have seen something suspicious or know about an issue. It’s important for businesses to make sure all employees feel comfortable reporting issues, not just those with knowledge of wrongdoing.

16. Make it clear that retaliation is not tolerated

One way to encourage more employees to come forward with information is to make it clear that they will be protected against retaliation. Sometimes, people are afraid of reporting concerns because they fear negative consequences. If businesses can show that whistleblowers are protected from this kind of response, more of them might feel comfortable sharing what they know.

17. Work on reforming decision-making practices

If whistleblowers are seeing wrongdoing in certain decision-making processes, it’s important for businesses to address these issues head on. This doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is doing something wrong or intentionally making decisions that violate company policy, but there might be a lack of understanding about how the process works. By reformatting some practices, businesses can limit the opportunity for wrongdoing to take place.

18. Be prepared to defend your decisions

It is inevitable that a business will have to respond to whistleblower complaints from time to time. The company should be ready with answers about why it made the decision that it did and how it plans on making improvements in the future. In many cases, whistleblowers are looking for an explanation, not just a response.

19. Learn from the experiences of others

To be an ethical leader, you should always be learning from other people’s mistakes and successes. If you know that a company has had issues in the past or handled whistleblowing complaints in a certain way, it’s important to take these lessons into consideration before making decisions.

20. Give employees a safe environment to voice concerns

Even if they are rare, there will always be some people who are unhappy with the way things are going at work. Rather than ignore these issues or wait until something bad happens, it’s important for businesses to provide an outlet for this kind of feedback through effective employee surveys and anonymous reporting opportunities.

21. Recognize when whistleblowers have helped the company

In some cases, an employee will not be a whistleblower by nature but will report concerns anyway in order to help the business. It’s important for businesses to acknowledge this kind of behavior and realize that there is value in having employees who are willing to stand up for what they believe in.

22. Make sure that top management is committed to ethical leadership

An organization’s leaders set the tone for its culture and behavior, so it’s important for them to be committed to acting ethically and encouraging others to do the same. If employees see that their managers are not willing to follow these guidelines themselves, they will have a harder time following them too.

23. Maintain a zero-tolerance policy for retaliation

When employees know that retaliation will not be tolerated, they are more likely to come forward with information when they see something wrong. In this situation, people who might otherwise have been afraid to report ethical grievances can feel empowered because they know their safety is guaranteed by company policy.

24. Promote an open environment for disclosing information

For businesses to be as ethical as possible, they need to create a culture where people feel comfortable sharing what they know. A transparent and collaborative environment will encourage more employees with knowledge of violations to step up and say something — even if it is at their own risk — than will an environment where people are afraid to speak their minds.

25. Encourage employees to act if they see wrongdoing

Even if you follow all of these recommendations, there is no guarantee that your company won’t have ethical issues from time to time. That’s why it’s important for businesses to encourage employees to come forward with any concerns or knowledge of wrongdoing they have. Employees who follow this company policy will feel valued and appreciated for their contributions, as well as more inclined to stick with the team.

The last word on protecting Whistleblowers

Even if you follow all of these recommendations, there is no guarantee that your company won’t have ethical issues from time to time. That’s why it’s important for businesses to encourage employees to come forward with any concerns or knowledge of wrongdoing they have. Employees who follow this company policy will feel valued and appreciated for their contributions, as well as more inclined to stick with the team.

Whistleblower disclosure policies are important for businesses to have because they encourage employees to come forward with knowledge of unethical behavior. That way it can be stopped before it becomes worse, rather than ignored until the wrongdoing has already caused significant damage. This allows companies to avoid large lawsuits or other types of problems, while encouraging the development of trust in the workplace. Whistleblower disclosure policies are important for companies to have because they help businesses show whistleblowers that their concerns are being taken seriously and they will be protected if they speak up about wrongdoings in the company. This is part of creating an open environment where people feel comfortable disclosing information, even if it is risky.

Caveats and Disclaimers

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