May 6th, 2019

Research and practical results show that companies perform better and have better results when they encourage and support whistleblowers.  Those within a company who realize there is wrongdoing taking place are often afraid to step up and say anything for fear of repercussion. Much of this apprehension comes from a lack of understanding of the process, confusion about the role they play in the investigation and fear about their identity being revealed. Companies stand to gain a significant ally in their efforts to improve corporate performance when they support whistleblowers to help them feel comfortable and confident about speaking out.

So, the question then is, how can a company do that?  I discussed this topic recently on a Walters Kluwer Legal webinar titled: “The Enemy (or Hero) Within: Practical Steps To Keep (POTENTIAL ) Whistleblowers from Losing Confidence in Your Internal Compliance Process (and Calling a Whistleblower Lawyer).”  Some highlights include:

Practical Strategies for Working with Whistleblowers

One of the strategic benefits a company can offer to a whistleblower is a clear understanding of the whistleblowing process. When companies are willing to provide answers regarding retaliation, confidentiality, the mechanics of the investigative process, and how the company will react to potential whistleblower involvement in the fraud as early on in the process as possible, everyone becomes more comfortable and the environment will remain less stressful. Having policies and establishing guidelines regarding the process will help the whistleblower feel like part of the solution.

While there are certain things companies often cannot disclose about the investigation, such as names of people they speak to or any information that would reveal other whistleblowers or their sources, it is important to be as transparent as possible. Initially informing the whistleblower about what you are able to disclose will aid in managing expectations. The more information you can offer at the start of the process will lend to a more cooperative, less frustrated whistleblower, which results in a better chance for a successful outcome.

Three possible solutions as part of an overall program to encourage whistleblowers that companies often don’t consider are:

Consider Mediations

Mediation is commonplace in the legal world for dispute resolution, because it is designed to achieve better results while simultaneously lowering the tension between the parties.  The truth is, the whole process of whistleblowing is stressful for the person doing the reporting and the person receiving the complaint.  Mediation could be a helpful way to facilitate the conversation between the whistleblower and the company – before it escalates into the filing of a whistleblower complaint and the whistleblower facing retaliation.

Risks of Zero-Tolerance Policy

Does your company have a zero-tolerance policy in place? If so, is it really legit? It is not uncommon for some of these policies to come along with only selective enforcement when certain issues come up. Don’t let your company’s policy be unfairly enforced.  Even worse, a zero-tolerance policy might make the penalties for having engaged in any misconduct so severe that wrongdoers are encouraged to take aggressive steps – preemptive retaliation – to keep whistleblowers from speaking up.

Policy to Encourage Colleagues to Support Whistleblowers

Often one of the worst parts of blowing the whistle is isolation from your coworkers.  Encouraging the colleagues within the workplace to support a whistleblower sends a strong message to the workforce overall: Your company is beyond the “snitches get stitches” attitude that some companies can exude. Even more, it can provide affirmative support to whistleblowers during a trying time. Plus, having these policies to encourage support will make it easier for anyone to step up, speak up, and file reports when they need to.

And finally, what about actually rewarding whistleblowers?  Public recognition for the good deed, such as recognizing them as employee of the month or boosting their performance evaluation, would often go a long way.  Financial rewards – anything from a gift card to a substantial year-end bonus – are also a clear way to send the message that you appreciate their efforts.

If you would like to talk about these and other ways to support whistleblowers within your organization, please contact me using my confidential website form or by calling 204-747-7639 for a free, confidential discussion.