Ethics Hotline Best Practices

Does the phrase “straight from the lion’s mouth” have something to do with ethics hotline systems?  Attorney Thomas Fox claimed so in a 2013 blog post titled “How straight from the lion’s mouth informs your hotline.” He said that citizens of the Republic of Venice (a very long time ago) could write down their concerns on paper and place the messages in the mouths of statues of lions placed around the city (the Lion of St. Mark being the symbol of Venice). City leaders presumably pulled the messages from the lions’ mouths and took action. There is no report on how well this system worked.

However, Fox used this tale as a lead in to a review of best practices for an ethics hotline. To summarize:

The hotline should be developed and maintained externally

External hotlines offer a perceived extra layer of anonymity and impartiality, and third party providers bring specialist expertise.

The hotline must support the collection of detailed information

A hotline reporting system should provide consolidated, real-time access to data across all departments and locations, plus analytic capabilities that allow compliance officers to un­cover trends and hot spots. All reported materials should be consolidated in one comprehensive, chronologi­cally organized file so that complaints can be tracked and analyzed throughout their life cycles.

The hotline must meet your company’s data retention poli­cies

The hotline should offer a secure, accessible report retention database (ideally compatible with other internal systems).

The hotline should be designed to inspire employee confidence

To encourage employee participation, the hotline should allow them to bring their concerns directly to some­one outside their immediate chain of command or workplace environment – especially when the complaint concerns an immediate superior. The hotline should also enable employees to submit a re­port from the privacy of an off-site computer or telephone.

The hotline should offer on-demand support from subject matter experts

Opening lines of communication can bring new issues to your compliance group. It is therefore important that once those reports are entered into the system, a person or function has the responsibility to follow up in a timely manner.

The hotline should provide built in litigation support and avoidance tools 

A company must make certain that its hotline is preconfigured to meet the legal requirements for document retention, at­torney work product protection procedures, and attorney privilege.

The hotline must support direct communication

A hotline should open the lines of communication and give you a di­rect sight-line into the heart of your company. Look for a system that enables you to connect directly, privately, and anonymously with the person filing a complaint.

You will tailor your company’s ethics hotline to meet your specific needs, but if you keep these suggested good (or “best’) practices in mind, you will help ensure your hotline is as effective as possible.

Ethical Advocate provides comprehensive ethics and compliance solutions, including ethics and compliance training and confidential and anonymous hotlines, meeting Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), and other regulatory and reporting needs. Contact us for more information.


Fox, Thomas. “How Straight From the Lion’s Mouth Informs Your Hotline.” FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog,