An anonymous hotline might seem difficult to manage at first. After all, if you don’t know who reported an issue, how can you follow up if you need more information?
The good news is anonymous complaints can still be followed-up on with the original reporter. And, you can do this without ever revealing anyone’s identity.
Set Up Anonymous Tracking
Whistleblower hotlines, both phone and online, use a tracking system to be effective while still keeping the whistleblower anonymous. Incidents are assigned case numbers with the real identity of the person kept hidden. The reporter can login or call back without revealing themselves to the investigator. Online system allow users to create an anonymous account.
Know What You Can Ask
As the investigator, when you ask the reporter for more information, you can assure them their identity will continue to be kept secret. While you can offer to speak in person, it’s usually best to avoid this if you think you can get all the information you need without their identity.
With that in mind, avoid any questions that would directly compromise their identity, such as:
· Co-worker names that aren’t in the report (unless you’re asking for potential witnesses)
· Phone number
· Email address
Only ask what’s relevant and necessary to fully investigate the complaint. Following up is a good thing, though. It proves to whistleblowers that the hotline is working and being taken seriously.
Avoid Same Department Contact
Your hotline investigative team should be fairly small, but it should include a variety of members. When someone sends in a complaint, try to determine who should follow up. If they list the complaint deals with HR, it’s probably best to avoid having an HR investigator follow up as they might recognize the whistleblower and may even show bias.
While this isn’t always possible, it’s a good way to further preserve anonymity.
Follow Up Quickly
The worst thing you can do is let a complaint sit for weeks. Whistleblowers will know that an investigation isn’t going on after a while. This makes them lose faith in the system.
Follow up as soon as possible. Ask for more information to start your investigation faster. This also leads to a quicker resolution, creating a more ethical workplace. While less serious complaints may need to be placed on the backburner for a more immediate issue, such as sexual harassment or major fraud, follow up with the whistleblower to let them know when you think the investigation will begin and ask if they have any additional information that may help.
The most important thing to do is just make the person feel comfortable. Odds are, they may already be scared to use the hotline. Prove to them that they did the right thing. Keep their identity safe, even if you do suspect who it is. And, investigate without bias for the right resolution.