When An Ethics Hotline And Your Company Meet For The First Time

Posted by Shannon Walker

on October 12, 2016

Introducing an ethics hotline into your company?Introducing an ethics hotline into your company?

Introductions can be awkward.

Introducing a new system into your company can be fraught with challenges.

And blank stares…

Many times employees are happy with the way things are rolling along and wonder why rock the boat?

Other employees welcome new ideas.

ACFE’s 2016 Global Fraud Study consistently reiterates that the most effective method for reducing workplace fraud is by implementing an ethics hotline that allows and encourages employees, customers and others to report corruption and wrongdoing.

Anonymous employee tips have been shown time and again to be the most common way fraud is uncovered.

And the key is anonymity. Anonymity makes it far more likely that employees will come forward with information.

So it makes sense to put an ethics hotline in place, if you don’t already have one.

Whistleblowing is a common term. Many whistleblowers are still burdened by the stigma of being a “snitch”. However, over the last few years, the term and the concept are beginning to be viewed as something noble, something expected and something required by federal and regulatory statutes.

Of course, how you position a new tool to employees and colleagues is an important consideration. Especially if the new tool is an ethics, or whistleblowing hotline.

Rule #1: never should it be positioned as a tool for snitching or deriding your fellow colleagues or for silly complaints.

This system needs to be elevated and touted for what it is – a tool to empower employees to identify wrongdoing and to protect the integrity of the organization.

When management comes forward to say they are ready and committed to provide this communication tool to employees, this makes the introduction that much easier.

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Rule #2: never should employees be retaliated against for coming forward.

WhistleBlower hotlines benefit any size of organization, from small, family-run organizations to large multi-national companies. The key to their success is that employees feel safe to come forward and are reassured they won’t be retaliated against when they do.

This reassurance begins with the Code of Conduct where it’s clearly defined what type of behaviour is expected within the organization.

Then ethics and compliance policies need to be drafted that support the Code but also emulate the culture of the organization. These polices must include strong anti-retaliation commitments on the part of the organization.

Rule #3: employees need to be guaranteed confidentiality

It’s hard to guarantee confidentiality using an internally run hotline. Although, having an internally run system is better than no system at all.

But, a third-party that administers the hotline and incident management system can provide transparency and objectivity. A third-party also brings a level of professional knowledge into the fold.

As well, internally run systems do not provide the level of sophistication that a third-party can bring.

Rule #4: you’ve got to promote the tool

How’s anybody supposed to know it exists if you don’t promote it?

Employees need to be trained and have knowledge of the company Code of Conduct. They also need to be familiar with the reporting system on an ongoing basis.

Regular messaging in the company newsletter, posters in the lunchroom and an annual review are key to ensuring that your employees are aware of the service and are encouraged to utilize the system.

Consistency and promotion are keys to having this tool work for the organization. If you get no calls on your hotline, it’s as much of an issue as receiving too many calls. A good balance represents a well-functioning organization.

Rule #5: the top level needs to support the entire program

Senior management needs to be involved, and fully support the process of defining the Code of Conduct and also deciding what type of reporting system the company will implement. It is necessary to have all of your key management team endorse and support this program for it to permeate the organization.

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This post was adapted from How to Introduce an Ethics Hotline System Into Your Company by the same author.