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NAVEX Issues 2022 Ethics Hotline Benchmarking Report: Whistleblower Reporting Rates and Retaliation Increase

As the leading hotline provider in the global market, NAVEX is in the unique position of collecting and analyzing employee reporting trends.  Each year, NAVEX issues an important report on current trends in employee reporting, whistleblowers, internal investigations and potential retaliation.

NAVEX’s most recent report is interesting.  NAVEX’s database consisted of 1.37 million reports made in 2021 at organizations around the world. 

Initially, NAVEX sets the stage by identifying two significant trends — one the one hand, companies were seeking to stabilize and recover in the post-pandemic world, and on the other, whistleblowers and employees were emboldened and more comfortable in reporting concerns.  2021 was a year most known for the “great resignation,” resulting in on average 4 million voluntary resignations per month.

NAVEX noted several significant findings, including declining levels of anonymous reporting, and increasing reports of harassment, discrimination and retaliation.  Notably, NAVEX cited that reports of harassment exceeded levels from the height of the #MeToo movement. NAVEX also pointed to increases in incidents of workplace civility, largely stemming from public disputes relating to workplace safety.

Aside from these interesting trends, NAVEX cited five significant findings:

Whistleblowers are becoming emboldened. NAVEX noted that 90 percent of all reports in 2021 alleged misconduct, which was an increase from 86 percent in 2020. The volume of inquiries on policies and procedures has fallen each year as a percentage of employee reports, from 21 percent in 2012, to 14 percent in 2020, to just 10 percent in 2021.

Fewer reports are submitted anonymously. The number of anonymous reports fell to an all-time low of 50 percent from 58 percent in 2020.  The rate of decline in anonymous reporting is accelerating.

More employees are reporting concerns directly to managers or functional groups. While the overall median reporting rate remained the same from last year at 1.3 reports per 100 employees.  For companies that only track hotline and web reporting, as opposed to walk-in reports and other types of reporting, the median reporting rate was only 0.9 per 100 employees.  However, for the companies collecting other reporting sources, the rate of reporting was 1.7 per 100 employees.  The difference between these two categories of reporting sources has been increasing, reflecting employees comfort in reporting to supervisors and other in-person avenues.

Substantiation rates continue to edge upward.  The substantiation rate for employee reports edged upwards from 42 percent in 202 to 43 percent in 2021, and up from 36 percent a decade ago.  The substantiation rates were the highest for data privacy concerns, 63 percent, environmental issues, 59 percent, and confidential and proprietary information, 54 percent.  The reports relating to alleged retaliation were only substantiated in 24 percent of the cases.

Reports about retaliation, harassment and discrimination increased significantly.  In 2021, reports of retaliation nearly doubled — from 0.9 percent in 2020 to 1.7 percent in 2021.  Only 24 percent of these reports were substantiated.  Reports of harassment rose to 5.6 percent, an all-time high.  Discrimination reports also increased to a record high of 4.7 percent.

Reports of accounting, auditing and financial reporting increased. Environmental, health and safety issues reporting rates decreased.  Financial reporting rates increased from 3 to 5 percent in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

The top five reported issues were health and safety reports (11.3 percent); conflict of interest (9.39 percent); data privacy and protection (5.12 percent); discrimination (4.39 percent); and misappropriation of assets (4.15 percent).

COVID-19 impact on reporting is continuing.  The number of reports relating to COVID-19 issues rose and fell at the same rate of overall levels of COVID-19 nationally.  As vaccine availability increased, the rate of reporting about COVID-19 issues fell.  The median reporting volume, however, remains below pre-COVID-19 levels.  Significantly, even though more employees are working remotely, employees are submitting reports at a faster pace — the time between the incident and the report.

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