Every business is vulnerable to unethical behavior, either through employee malfeasance or with outside partners. The most important thing is to create a system that lets employees know that no matter what the situation, they will be taken care of and protected if they report wrongdoing. It is also important to remember that whistleblowers can be anyone—an employee, a supplier, or even an outsider such as a customer. Ethical practices are at the root of the small details which affect the Social aspects of an ESG score. Get the small details right, and the big details will take care of themselves. If you need a little help to get started, we have a list of 25 tips to get you on your way with creating a solid whistleblower reporting process.
How to increase Ethical behaviour in the Workplace
According to the 2012 Ethics and Workplace Survey by Deloitte, nearly half of employees surveyed would not speak up about unethical behavior even if they were certain that it was occurring. The company also found a correlation between a whistleblower policy and increased ethical behavior.
A whistleblower policy is a code of conduct for reporting any unethical or illegal activities within the company and the benefits of having such a policy. A whistleblower can be any person who reports misconduct, wrongdoing or illegal activity within an organization to those with the power to correct it. Rules and procedures should be built around these policies for distribution throughout all levels of management so everyone knows exactly what behaviors are expected of them and how to report any violations they encounter.
Why whistleblowers take the risk
Of course, no article on whistleblowing can be complete without touching upon the issue of why whistleblowers take the risk and face the consequences of speaking out. Here are some of the top reasons:
1. To protect someone’s rights or safety
Some whistleblowers will only come forward in order to protect a member of their team — such as an employee or a customer — from potential wrongdoing. For example, an employee might report concerns about their manager discriminating against them, while a customer may report that they’ve been sold a defective product.
2. To improve conditions for themselves and others
In some cases, whistleblowers might be looking out for their own interests rather than the interests of someone else. This is often the case when someone who was involved in some kind of wrongdoing comes forward to report it on their own behalf. For example, an employee might reveal that they were illegally underpaid by their employer.
3. To expose wrongdoing against the public interest
Sometimes whistleblowers come forward to report an issue that affects everyone — such as fraud or embezzlement. They may blow the whistle on their company for this reason, but they might also approach someone without an association with their company — such as a journalist or law enforcement officer.
4. To prevent someone from becoming a whistleblower
In some cases, people will come forward with information on an unethical behavior for the sole purpose of preventing someone else from speaking out. For instance, if they think it might hurt their chances of promotion or result in negative consequences such as demotion — even though there may be no facts that support this.
5. To avoid personal consequences
Finally, some whistleblowers will only step forward if they think they won’t face any kind of retaliation or consequence for reporting unethical behavior. It’s easy to say that you should be willing to come forward at your own risk, but people are often less brave in practice than they sound when theorizing about whistleblowing.
Recent history examples of companies that have been exposed by whistleblowers are Volkswagen, Toyota, Exxon Mobil, General Motors (GM), Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Facebook to name a few.
Whistleblower rights and protections
As you can see, whistleblowers have a variety of motivations for coming forward. However, they do share one thing in common: they all need protection from retaliation. Otherwise, the entire whistleblowing operation is pointless. Therefore, most whistleblower laws will grant a number of rights and protections to anyone who blows the whistle on their company.
A culture of paranoia
Without clear outlines, employees will be concerned about retaliation and the legal consequences. The policy should indicate how anonymous complaints can be filed as well as what type of information is needed so an appropriate investigation can take place. This can be challenging not only because it requires having systems in place for handling disclosures of wrongdoing from any source, but also because you have to let your employees know they are protected, without being so over-the-top about it that it creates a culture of paranoia.
The history of whistleblowing
Whistleblowing is not a new concept. In fact, records of whistleblowers date back as early as the 12th century B.C. The Code of Hammurabi, one of the first sets of laws known to humankind, included rules that explicitly protected those who reported wrongdoing against retaliation from their superiors or co-workers. These safeguards were put in place, according to Hammurabi’s belief, because they would give citizens the confidence and courage they needed to report wrongdoing.
Today, companies and organizations of all kinds and sizes implement whistleblower policies to encourage employees and others to come forward with knowledge or evidence of illegal or unethical behavior on their part or on the part of those with whom they are affiliated. These safeguards are designed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation, harassment and other forms of abuse for doing what they believe is right—reporting wrongdoing.
Whistleblower policies today
Employees want to know that their employers have a strong commitment to ethical behavior, according to the Ethics Resource Center , a nonprofit dedicated to helping people make better business decisions that will benefit both the company and society. Many organizations have whistleblower policies in place that protect their employees, but companies should know that not having a process for handling disclosures of wrongdoing can actually do more harm than good.
Fear is the reason so many employees stay silent when they witness illegal or unethical behavior because they are not sure if their employers will protect them. While there are no guarantees, creating a system that lets employees know they will be protected if they report wrongdoing goes a long way toward encouraging people who have knowledge of misconduct to make a report.
Legal Protection in your country for Whistleblowers
Laws that protect whistleblowers can vary among countries and may depend on what type of violation you are reporting. Knowing the whistleblower laws in your country is therefore very important before taking any whistleblowing action. There are some steps to take with whistleblowing that you need to know before blowing the whistle. There are also some things that you can do to protect yourself as a whistleblower. It can be helpful to consult with an experienced employment law attorney if you are considering taking action against your employer.
Whistleblower protection Acts by Country
There are countries which have adopted strong legislation regarding whistleblowing, with laws specifically aimed at protecting individuals who report any type of wrongdoing within their organizations or to government agencies. There are also countries that offer only partial protection and some which do not offer any protection at all. In the United States, for example, there has been a Whistleblower Protection Act since 1989 protecting whistleblowers from retaliation by the employer. In Canada, the law protects the employees who report wrongdoings to their employer, but not those employees who make reports directly to government agencies. There are also no specific laws offering protection for whistleblowers in the UK. In Australia, whistleblowing is regulated by the Public Interest Disclosure Act. Whereas in the EU, Directive 2002/58/EC offers protection to whistleblowers within the private sector. There are also some countries that limit whistleblowing protection to specific industries or fields of employment, such as Brazil’s Clean Company Act.
What you need to know before Blowing the Whistle
Remember, whistleblowing is a term that applies to any person who exposes misconduct in the workplace. It can also apply to individuals or groups that report legitimate violations of law or regulation outside of an organization. This helps expose activities such as health and safety issues, environmental problems, consumer fraud, insider trading and even corruption among government agencies. If you are thinking of becoming a whistleblower, there are some things that you need to know before taking such an action. It is important to find out the laws in your country and whether or not there is any legal protection offered for whistleblowers. You should also be aware of possible risks involved when exposing wrongdoing at your workplace.
Two types of whistleblowing
First, there is the ‘informal’ whistleblowing. This involves limited disclosure of information to people who may be able to stop wrongdoing at an early stage. It consists of disclosing only general details about problems in the company. Second, formal whistleblowing implies that you are accusing your employer in public. This is often a dangerous step, as you are going to be exposing your identity and accusing your employer publicly. As well as going against the code of conduct following by employees of most companies, there can be legal consequences to this act.
With an informal whistleblowing, the company has no obligation to investigate your claims or give you any protection. You will also be breaching the company’s confidentiality policy and can face consequences (both informal or formal) for this. If your goal is not to damage the public image of the business, but only to ensure compliance with laws and regulations, then this may be an option you want to consider. However, if you are intending to make accusations against your employer, this is not the most advisable route.
What whistleblower rights and protections do I have?
The exact legal benefits afforded to whistleblowers will vary from one country to the next, as well as among different organizations in the same country. However, there are some common elements that you can expect in most places. Let’s take a look at some of these rights and protections.
- Don’t be retaliated against – It’s important for employees to realize that they have the right to feel safe in their workplace, even if they are reporting something negative about the company. The law should protect them from unfair discipline or demotion as a result of bringing up an issue related to your organization.
- Protected communication – Whistleblowers are often privy to sensitive information that they’re not legally allowed to share with anyone else. That’s why many whistleblower laws protect whistleblowers if they choose to disclose this information anonymously, or through a third party like an attorney.
- Favorable terms for unemployment – the law may protect the jobs of whistleblowers in certain circumstances, even if the organization has the right to fire them. This is usually the case when employees are fired for something that they revealed within the scope of their whistleblowing activities.
- Reinstatement – Your company may be legally required to offer reinstatement to whistleblowers under particular conditions. For example, you might be entitled to your job back if you were demoted or fired for reporting a legal violation, and then your employer makes a decision that is not permissible under the law.
- Protections from defamation laws – In some circumstances, whistleblowers are protected from defamation lawsuits if they make an honest mistake when disclosing information. For example, if a falsely accused party would sue them for defamation, the whistleblower would only be protected from a lawsuit if their statement was substantially true.
What is protected from legal proceedings?
Not every communication that a whistleblower makes is protected by law. In some countries, whistleblowers are not legally protected if they make unfounded accusations without any specific evidence to support them. Additionally, this right does not apply to whistleblowers who:
- disclose privileged information without authorization, such as a doctor disclosing the medical records of a patient
- do not have reasonable grounds for believing that their accusations are true
- disclose information that they know or should reasonably know is covered by an obligation of confidentiality.
What happens if I report wrongdoing and go against company policy?
Aside from the legal protections afforded to whistleblowers, there may also be additional policies in place within your organization. This might include things like mandatory reporting of wrongdoing, or a policy that prohibits employees from speaking with outside law enforcement agencies without company approval.
If you decide to go against these rules and report something anyway, then you run the risk of violating company policy and facing disciplinary action. This type of action is separate from any legal repercussions that you might face, such as criminal charges or fines under the law.
Caveats and Disclaimers
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