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The Importance of Whistleblowers to a Speak Up Culture

The twist and turns of our political world amid the ongoing controversy surrounding whistleblower reporting has focused  attention on an important issue – encouraging whistleblowers as part of a speak up culture and protecting them from retaliation is critical.

Without getting into the merits of the specific allegations raised by the CIA whistleblower, the political debate concerning the identity, motives and protection of the whistleblower is important to monitor.  To the extent that political ideas and perception concerning the CIA whistleblower influence your company’s culture and attitudes, compliance officers have to be vigilant to protect the integrity of their own whistleblower program.    This is a perfect example of where social and political attitudes can influence corporate speak up cultures.

As the current controversy drags on, compliance officers should reinvigorate communications and training to reinforce the protection of whistleblowers and reporters who come forward to report issues of concern.

To remediate the impact of the current political controversy, compliance officers should reinforce the following four messages:

  1. We Want to Hear from You – Senior management and compliance officers should communicate and demonstrate where appropriate the importance of employees reporting their concerns, whether directly to their supervisors, the compliance office, human resources, or a reporting hotline.  If an employee wants to report anonymously, that should be an option.
  • We Will Protect Your Identity —  Many employees want to report their concerns anonymously.  While the substantiation rates for anonymous complaints has been increasing over the last few years, compliance officers recognize that hearing from an employee, whether anonymous or not, is vital to a compliance program.  Luckily, most case management systems facilitate communications with an anonymous reporter so that follow up questions and dialogue can occur.  It is important that compliance officers protect the anonymity of the reporter.
  • We Will Investigate Your Allegations – A speak up culture depends on a company’s commitment to investigate whistleblower allegations and hold actors and supervisors accountable for their behavior.  If a company brushes allegations under the rug and fails to investigate a whistleblower’s claim, a company’s speak up culture will quickly deteriorate.  In order to maintain trust with its employees, companies have to devote adequate resources to investigate and resolve whistleblower claims on a timely and prompt basis.
  • We Will Protect You From Retaliation – Whistleblowers have been suffering from an increase in retaliation – overt and subtle actions taken by supervisors and other corporate managers.  It is often difficult to collect enough evidence to substantiate claims of retaliation given the variety of subtle tactics to impact a whistleblower’s status.  Compliance officers have to be vigilant in monitoring a whistleblower’s status and potential efforts to retaliate against the whistleblower.  When credible allegations are raised that an employee has retaliated, the compliance officer has to carefully investigate such claims recognizing that the results of the investigation could have a significant impact on a company’s culture.

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