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Whistleblower Series: Establishing reporting channels

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In the last blog in this series, I wrote about whistleblower policies. I indicated in that blog that these policies should include information about the channels that whistleblowers can use to report wrongdoing in their workplace. This blog is about these reporting channels.

It’s a good idea to have multiple channels available for employees to report wrongdoing. This is because different people have different comfort levels and preferences. Many will not want to have any face-to-face or telephone communications. Others may feel that they cannot explain the wrongdoing in writing (e.g., when a case is very complex). Others may want to use more than one channel (e.g., submitting a written report and then wanting to have a discussion about it).

There is no downside to having multiple channels in place, provided that each is monitored. Below, I have summarized the typical reporting channels that organizations may wish to use:

  • Third-party monitoring service: Some organizations choose to use a service that is independent of the organization to receive reports of wrongdoing. The advantage of such a service is that whistleblowers may feel more comfortable or better protected by not dealing with their employer directly. Another advantage is that the third party’s platform may allow for reports to be made entirely anonymously. The one drawback is that there could be some confusion about what the organization’s role is in investigating reports made through a third party. This is something that an organization will want to iron out and perhaps include as part of its communications regarding its whistleblower program.
  • Email: One option is to set up a dedicated email address to receive whistleblower reports. This may be accompanied by an intake form that whistleblowers need to fill out. Some whistleblowers are perfectly happy to use this channel as it establishes a direct line of communication to the intake person and it provides a written record of what they are reporting. For others who do not want to divulge their identity, email may be an issue. It may require them to create a “fake” email address, or they may instead choose a more anonymous reporting channel, like using regular mail. Overall, though, I think an email address is a “must” given the level of comfort that many have with this method of communication.
  • Mail: Another option is to provide a mailing address. In my experience, “snail mail” is not commonly used to report wrongdoing. It is not, however, entirely unheard of. It’s often a mysterious “brown envelope” type situation, meaning that there is usually no return address or other identifying information that allows for the reporter to be contacted. These reports tend to be more difficult from an intake and investigation perspective as there is zero possibility of having contact with the whistleblower. However, the mail option can be beneficial as some may be concerned about using electronic means to make a report.
  • Telephone: It’s generally a good idea for there to be a telephone number assigned to the whistleblower program, with someone assigned to monitor it. While some may use it to report wrongdoing, many will use the telephone to first gather information about the whistleblowing process. These initial discussions, which are quite difficult to have in writing, are crucial to communicating relevant information about the process and answering any questions that the whistleblower may have.

Overall, regardless of the reporting channels that the organization establishes, some flexibility may be required. For example, for those who do intake work within an organization, it could be the case that an employee drops by without an appointment to disclose wrongdoing, without using one of the regular reporting channels. While an organization may have a preferred way of receiving reports (e.g., a form via email), it is usually not beneficial to be rigid about this. This is because a technicality should not stand in the way of hearing about potential wrongdoing.

In the next blog in this series, I will describe some of the issues that workplace whistleblowers may report using these reporting channels.


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