More On Encouraging Hotline Use

The topic of how to encourage and promote ethics hotline use has been the subject of quite a number of Ethical Advocate blog posts. For example, last month we highlighted the characteristics of effective hotlines that encourage hotline use. In August 2014, we discussed ways to promote your ethics hotline. And, in June 2013, we provided tips on keeping ethics hotline awareness high.

This week’s topic addresses eight critical questions that employees and managers will want to have answered when they consider whether or not to report possible ethics or compliance violations. We found these questions on the “Speaking Up” page of The Compliance Toolbox wiki, along with related information.

As the wiki article reminds us, it is important but not sufficient to tell employees that they have a responsibility to speak up. It is also not sufficient just to have a tool or reporting mechanism in place. Employees will want answers to some or all of the following questions before they decide to speak up.

Why should I speak up? Be clear about why the organization wants employees to report possible misconduct; be clear about what’s in it for the organization and what’s in it for the employee.

How should I speak up? Make expectations clear and provide guidance. Are employees expected to address concerns directly with the persons involved whenever it is reasonable to do so? Are they encouraged to report first to a supervisor or manager whenever reasonable? Make that clear—and define “reasonable.” Address the proper use of the ethics hotline or other reporting mechanisms as well.

Who can I speak up to? Provide a clear description of the various channels and make sure employees know they can choose the channel they are most comfortable with. Keep the options and the channels fairly simple; too much hierarchy is associated with lower rates of speaking up, according to the wiki article.

What’s the policy of retaliation? Don’t leave this open to interpretation. Provide an explanation and examples of unacceptable behavior, and tell employees what to do if they experience retaliation.

What happens when I speak up (will I be kept in the loop)? Make sure employees know what to expect after they make a report. Set and fulfill expectations about how and to what extent they will be told what happens.

Can I remain anonymous? It’s not possible to guarantee anonymity or confidentiality in certain circumstances. But it is possible to explain the difference and to let employees know how and when anonymity and confidentiality will be protected.

What if someone speaks up maliciously? Provide examples of “bad faith actions”—intentionally trying to harm someone’s reputation; giving information the speaker knows is false—and be clear that such actions are prohibited.

What do I do if someone speaks up to me? This question may be a particular concern of managers. Be sure they know the organization’s expectations and provide training in how encourage (and respond to) speaking up.

Employers should weave the answers to these questions through all communications about their ethics and compliance programs, ethics hotlines, codes of conduct, and related policies and procedures.  When employees are armed with answers to these and similar questions they will be less uncertain about the process and more comfortable speaking up.

Ethical Advocate provides hotline support and comprehensive compliance solutions for public and private companies, non-profits, educational, and government institutions. We’d be happy to answer your questions.


“Eight Critical Questions.” Speaking Up page of The Compliance Toolbox wiki, 2012.