We’ve often discussed why a business should implement an anonymous ethics hotline. The shortest version of that discussion could be summarized a little like this: hundreds of businesses are forced into bankruptcy every year because they cannot afford to pay government fines, court costs, and settlement payments related to unethical and illegal behavior in the workplace.
Unethical behavior on the part of employees can result in fines and fees from government regulators, but also in private civil money judgments when there is an ethical dispute between employees.
Bad ethics enforcement and compliance can be fatal to a business of any size, but it’s a particularly pressing problem for small and mid-sized businesses that are often one adverse judgment away from a serious financial crisis.
To avoid these issues, it is critically important for an organization to effectively police it’s workforce.
To that end, the anonymous hotline has proven itself the most efficient way of achieving this goal. The anonymous ethics hotline has become such a success it has become a virtual industry standard. Not a single Fortune 500 company has chosen to go without some form of anonymous or semi-anonymous ethics compliance hotline or other anonymous reporting system.
Anonymity Equals Security
Time and again, industry analysts have observed that where employees feel they may be subject to retaliation for reporting the bad behavior of a particular coworker, they are significantly less likely to report the bad behavior of any coworker. Unfortunately, business is inseparable from the human personalities which conduct it. If an employee even suspects that management may be playing favorites, they are much less likely to report that person.
Further, employees may actually view a failure on management’s part to notice and correct unethical behavior as a silent endorsement of that behavior–and this can further discourage reporting.
You can ensure a safe and ethical work environment by disposing of two critical aspects of ethics compliance up front: (1) keep the reporting process truly anonymous, and (2) respond quickly and thoroughly to complaints.
Remember, the only way an employee will know that their complaint has been taken seriously is to see, in some way, the process taking effect around them. If a complaint is validated, that validation should be public. This will signal to employees that the system functions and should be used.
Although there may be other ethical issues involved in publicizing an employee’s bad behavior, there are many avenues by which the complainant may be rewarded or otherwise recognized for participating. An ethics expert can help your organization craft a system that best addresses these issues while avoiding any potential risks specific to your field. For example, an annual presentation of the total number of hotline cases and the type of reports might be appropriate.
But How Will My Employees Be Certain Their Complaints Are Anonymous?
Ultimately, the only way to institute an effective reporting system is to guarantee absolute anonymity of the reporters. The only way to guarantee absolute anonymity is to implement a hotline system and use it properly. The best way for an employee to know that their complaint is anonymous is to experience the system functioning correctly and effectively throughout their daily work life.