How to Report Unethical Behavior in the Workplace

December 20, 2022

No company is fully immune to wrongdoings that occur in the workplace. Sometimes, you may bump across something that “doesn’t quite feel right”. You might suspect that your boss is concealing important information about a project from his manager, your coworker might be a victim of sexual harassment, or one of your colleagues might be fudging numbers. Regardless of how harmless or harmful the concern might seem, it is important to bring it out in the open. 

For any organization looking to build a solid culture of compliance, the greatest barrier is not the series of misconduct incidents itself. Instead, it is the reluctance (or refusal) to report these issues.

But how do you know “when” it’s time to speak up? What is the procedure to follow should you witness misconduct? How can you ensure your case is a solid one? Read on to understand. 

Know that Your Report Will Be Confidential 

When it comes to reporting misconduct in the workplace, many employees fail to take action. The reason? Fear of retaliation. According to Gartner, nearly 60% of misconduct goes unreported. This comes as no surprise since employees wouldn’t be willing to put their jobs on the line to register a complaint if they end up facing the music for doing the right thing. 

However, in companies where ethics matters above everything else, employees can report wrongdoings without having to worry about the repercussions. These companies ensure maximum anonymity each time an employee wants to report something (for instance, an employee doesn’t have to fear retaliation if they use an anonymous hotline). 

To ensure no wrongdoing goes unnoticed, managers must construct a confidential system for reporting misconduct of any kind. In addition, once the complaint has been received, managers must maintain the highest possible confidentiality to protect the privacy of the whistleblower. 

From reporting fraudulent overtime claims to uncovering the sexual harassment a coworker might be facing, it is critical for every employee to report wrongdoings that they witness or experience. 

Instances of misconduct will continue to get reported when employees are convinced no harm will come to them for doing the right thing. This will, in turn, cleanse the company of ethical lapses and pave the way for a solid culture of compliance.

Revert to Your Training 

So, you’ve witnessed an instance of wrongdoing in the workplace. How can you double-check whether the behavior you’ve witnessed is, in fact, prohibited in the workplace? 

There is when the time comes to consult your company’s policies and rules. When you have an in-depth understanding of a clear policy violation, your report is more likely to be taken seriously. You can even reach out to the HR department if you’re still unsure about the steps you should take next.

Once you take a tour of your company handbook and employee code of conduct, the next step would be to infuse your report with as many details as possible. This is when you…

Document Everything 

To add a generous dose of credibility to your report, it’s important to document everything associated with the ethical violation you witness. Documentation helps a great deal when you’re asked questions during the investigation or even summoned to the court should the investigation take a serious turn. 

List important details such as the time and date of the incident, the parties involved, and the witnesses who were present. You can even make copies of the document to refer to should you need them during the course of the investigation. 

Aside from solid documentation, it’s also important to gather any witnesses or proof that can support your case. Emails, files, documents, voice mails, testimonials, and more are a few of the many pieces of evidence that can strengthen your report. 

When the time comes to discuss your concerns, make sure you put the spotlight only on factual concerns and eliminate any personal concerns. For instance, if you’re reporting an employee for sexual harassment, make sure you do not mention their marital status. 

Rehearse, If Needed 

If you decide to communicate the situation with your colleague, make sure you don’t go unprepared. Instead, rehearse what exactly you’re going to say. For this purpose, you can take the help of your close friend or spouse. Quick rehearsing with a trusted peer will help you double-check your reasoning and craft an action plan. It will also help you build confidence and firmly hold your ground when you engage in conversation. 

Talk to Your Compliance Representative 

Companies usually face heavy losses every time a word of corporate misconduct escapes their offices. Many companies place their trust in compliance officers to protect their organization, run thorough investigations, stop any incidents of wrongdoing from blowing out of proportion, and even prevent ethical lapses in the future. 

Great compliance officers motivate companies to promote ethical behaviors in the workplace. Your company’s compliance representative will hear you out in an objective manner. If the misconduct you’re pointing out does stand against your company’s code of conduct, the compliance officer will immediately start an investigation. 

When setting up a meeting with your compliance representative, make sure you bring along all the necessary documentation. Point out important details that make your case credible. Be calm, confident, objective, and professional throughout the conversation. 

While you may have documented everything in your power, it is still possible to overlook some facts. Make sure you also bring these gray areas to the representative’s notice. 

A Final Word

From pilfering pens to serious cases of embezzlement to concerns regarding sexual harassment – unethical behavior can prove to be disastrous for a company. When a “pattern” of these behaviors emerges, even the most loyal employees within a company begin to feel unsafe within the workplace. Some even decide to walk straight out of the company. 

When unreported misconducts pile up, the company’s ethical culture takes a massive blow which can be challenging to recover from. 

From training to investigation and everything in between – Ethico can become your company’s right-hand man, helping your foster an unshakable culture of compliance.