Please Return to the Ethics Hotline

“Ten business days after you complete your report please return to the ethics hotline to see if there are follow-up questions …”

“You can return to the fraud hotline or website and access the original report to add more detail and answer questions…”

Those and statements like them appear in the instructions for those using ethics hotlines. It’s important for employees to call back so that investigators can obtain additional information if needed, but an estimated two-thirds of anonymous callers never call back.

How can you encourage follow-up reporting and increase the number of employees who return to the hotline?

It begins with the same factors that encourage your employees to use the ethics hotline in the first place.  They will use it if they if they believe that management has a long-term commitment to ethical behavior, if they’re aware of the ethics hotline, if they think they can participate without fear of retaliation or retribution, and if it’s easy for them to use.

Employees are far more likely to report misconduct (73 percent to 55 percent) in organizations with strong ethical cultures, including a clear commitment from senior management.  Culture is the extent to which a strong commitment to ethics is set at the top, the message is reinforced throughout all levels of management, and employees perceive the ethical standards really matter in an organization’s day-to-day operations. [Ethics Resource Center, 2010]  In addition, they’re more likely to report and to be satisfied with the reporting process if they believe that their complaints will be handled fairly. [Ethics Resource Center, 2013]

The perception of the corporate culture and belief that complaints will be handled fairly will also influence how comfortable and willing employees are to return to the hotline to answer questions and provide additional information.  Given a strong ethical culture, an ongoing communications program will promote awareness of the hotline, provide frequent opportunities to encourage hotline use and explain why it’s important to return to the hotline for follow-up.

The follow-up process needs to be relatively easy.  During the initial contact, provide a username and password and a toll-free telephone number or secure website for the caller to return to.  Offer the caller an option to provide telephone or email contact information so the investigators can follow-up directly, but also provide the option for anonymous follow-up.

Encourage the caller to return to the hotline at any time to amend their statement or to provide additional information, but also ask them to follow-up within a stated time period (typically five to ten business days) to give investigators an opportunity to review the initial report and formulate questions.

Remember that employees are more likely to use the hotline if they believe they are being listened to and that their complaint will be handled fairly.  Follow-up is a two-way street.  To the extent possible, ensure that callers receive notification that the matter was investigated and that appropriate action will be taken.  Ethical Advocate can help by providing a system that supports follow-up from both sides.

By increasing awareness of the importance of follow-up, providing options, making it easy to do, and letting callers know they were heard, you should see an increase in follow-up reporting.


Ethics Resource Center.  Blowing the Whistle on Workplace Misconduct, December 2010.

Ethics Resource Center.  Encouraging Employee Reporting Through Procedural Justice, 2013