The image of the whistleblower tends towards the extremes, from altruistic to self-centered. The whistleblower is the employee or stakeholder within an organization who identifies wrongdoing and seeks correction, but is unable to do so on his own.
The whistleblower is going to involve someone; the questions are who, how, and when?
Management that offers an anonymous reporting system gives employees more options for sharing their suspicions of internal problems – and that includes the whistleblower. Perhaps the employee already confronted the person creating the problem. Perhaps the employee already went to his boss. Or, perhaps the response simply appeared inadequate.
As per the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the whistleblower discloses information believed to be a violation of a legal requirement, gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. For federal employees, the Office of Special Counsel and its hotline serve as the secure channels for reporting, review, and investigation.
When an employee hotline is coupled with a written compliance program and ethics hotline response protocol, employees can participate in and see the results of their efforts to share concerns. The employee hotline may become the mechanism that vaults their complaint beyond their immediate supervisor and into the compliance department or the upper reaches of management. The ethics hotline report can also become part of aggregated reporting that becomes part of employee training materials and company reform.
Ultimately, an employee may exercise a right to pursue judicial action with private counsel of their choosing. Lawsuits, by their very nature, are adversarial, public, and expensive to the bottom line. And, the outcome of the lawsuit can include being directed to perform exactly the same thing that the employee was requesting in the first place. This potential outcome is all the more reason to provide an environment for employees to seek internal resolution of grievances, including through a confidential report to an anonymous hotline.
The additional incentive to offer a hotline is that the whistleblower might file a qui tam lawsuit under the False Claims Act. These cases, filed under seal, will get the attention of management and potentially drain considerable resources to mount a defense.
From open door to anonymous hotline, there’s more than one reason to offer a potential whistleblower a variety of platforms to launch an internal alert.