When Do You Have a Hotline?

Not when it’s a secret, according to CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, speaking during an April 2017 news show about harassment at Fox News.

Her comment was in response to a statement by a fellow CNN news journalist about “this hotline” at Fox. Representatives from 21st Century Fox had said that no employee had ever used the company’s anonymous hotline to make a complaint about Fox news host Bill O’Reilly, the recent target of harassment allegations (Scheiber, 2017).

“there was no hotline!” Camerota said. “If a hotline is a secret, it doesn’t work. When you have a real hotline, you put up posters… if you see anything… if you feel anything… here’s the number to call.”

That sentiment is confirmed in the Scheiber article, which quotes a lawyer who represents whistleblowers. It is “very common for companies to bury information about how employees can file confidential complaints and for employees to be completely unaware of the existence of hotlines.” In addition, “many companies also neglect to mention the hotlines in training sessions.”

According to a lawyer who advises companies on related matters, also quoted by Scheiber, “no reporting system is effective unless people feel like you care and that they’ll be protected from retaliation. If you don’t do those two, it doesn’t work.” The mere existence of a hotline is not sufficient.

We’ve just described when a hotline is effectively not a hotline. So, when is a hotline a hotline? We can conclude from the previous statements that a hotline is a hotline when employees know it exists (it’s not a secret!), when they know how to use it, and when they trust the system.

Given the existence of a hotline, employers must keep hotline awareness high—with company-wide messages throughout the year, banner ads on the intranet, brochures, posters, clear and specific language in ethics and harassment policies, procedures, and codes of conduct, and more. And they should go beyond awareness campaigns to deliver specific, actionable training on what the hotline is, why it exists, how to use it, and what to use if for.

Managers and supervisors need to know—need to be trained on—how to discuss the hotline and how to respond to employees who speak up. They also must be very aware of the non-retaliation policy, if there is one. And if there is not one, then employers need to develop one.

Trust is essential. Employees must trust the company culture, they must trust the system, and they must trust their leaders. As emphasized in the post “Build Hotline Trust,” remember that actions speak louder than words. When leaders and others behave consistently with the ethical principles they espouse, employees will trust them, and then they will trust the system—including the ethics hotline.

Ethical Advocate provides hotline support, ethics and compliance-related training, and comprehensive compliance solutions for public and private companies, non-profits, educational, and government institutions. We invite you to contact us for more information.


“CNN Anchor Recalls Harassment at Fox.” Cnn.com videoclip, April 20, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/videos/cnnmoney/2017/04/20/alisyn-camerota-fox-news-moments-newday.cnn/video/playlists/stories-worth-watching/

Scheiber, Noam. “Anonymous Harassment Hotlines Are Hard to Find and Harder to Trust.” Anonymous Harassment Hotlines Are Hard to Find and Harder to Trust.” New York Times (online), April 21, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/business/media/fox-sexual-harassment-hotline-bill-oreilly.html?_r=0