Protect Whistleblowers: How to Prevent and Address Retaliation

December 15, 2021

When you own a company, you have a responsibility to conduct business as ethically as possible. This is true for everyone in your organization, from the top of the C-suite to your lowest-ranking employee — but of course, you can’t control everyone. 

There is always a risk that someone at your company could behave unethically without your knowledge, so how can you hope to keep your organization in compliance? Two words: corporate whistleblowers.

Whistleblowers are your first line of defense against corruption and misconduct throughout your organization. When these men and women report wrongdoing they’ve witnessed on the job, they help protect your company’s integrity and reputation. Therefore, as an employer, it’s imperative you take steps to protect your whistleblowers.

Why Whistleblowers Matter

Does your company really need whistleblowers? In a word: absolutely. 

Not only do whistleblowers help weed out unethical employees, but it also shields you against hefty losses from employee theft, non-compliance fines, and lawsuits. In fact, studies show that companies with internal whistleblowers typically see 6.9% fewer lawsuits!

Moreover, both vendors and customers like working with companies they know are committed to ethics. Encouraging whistleblowing can help improve your reputation within your industry. 

What is Retaliation?

Although whistleblowing offers a company many benefits, it’s not always easy to encourage this behavior. Too often, managers and other higher-ups don’t take whistleblowing seriously — or worse, a whistleblower will suffer from retaliation after they report their colleagues.

According to the Ethics and Compliance Initiative, an incredible 53% of workers who report misconduct suffer some form of retaliation. This can range from vilification and ostracism from their peers to threats, demotion, and even job dismissal. 

Tips to Prevent Retaliation

If business owners want to prevent fraud, theft, harassment, and other forms of misconduct, they must create an environment that accommodates and protects whistleblowers. This does two things: it gives your employees the assurance they need to come forward without worry, and it tells any would-be wrongdoers that your company won’t tolerate their behavior.

But how can you protect your whistleblowers and prevent retaliation? Here are a few helpful tips:

Start at the Top

If you want to create a workplace that values and protects whistleblowers, it’s vital that everyone is on board. Explain to leadership that whistleblowers are an important part of protecting your company as a whole. Once they see how whistleblowers can help the organization in the long run, they’ll be more likely to implement policies that protect workers who report misconduct.

Foster a Speak-up Culture

Even if your organization is committed to protecting whistleblowers, your employees might still be afraid that reporting co-workers will cost them their jobs. You can assuage this fear by helping change the corporate culture in your office! Make sure your employees know that you both appreciate and welcome their input about your workplace and they will be more likely to speak up when they see something.

Create Multiple Reporting Options

While some workers might be comfortable reporting misconduct to their direct supervisor, others may prefer a more anonymous method to share what they’ve seen. This is why it’s important to give your employees several reporting pathways. An open-door policy is great, but make sure you also have options like an anonymous tip hotline for employees who want to remain confidential.  

Conduct Anti-retaliation Training 

OSHA enforces several whistleblower protection laws designed to prevent retaliation among workers. One great way to make sure your employees avoid retaliation is to teach them these laws! Add anti-retaliation lessons to your new compliance training and you can ensure that your employees are aware of the laws surrounding whistleblowers and coworkers’ response to them.  

Monitor Progress 

Protecting whistleblowers is not an overnight task. It will take quite a while to create an ethics-focused culture in your workplace, and keeping that culture in place will require regular maintenance. Your managers and HR department should monitor misconduct incidents as well as reporting rates to see if there are any ways your company can improve its policies.

Get Help (if necessary)

Finally, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to take on this task alone. There are many third-party organizations out there that can help you audit your current reporting system, develop new training modules, or outfit your company with reporting hotlines and other compliance tools. Don’t be afraid to give these services a try — they just might be the thing that changes your company for the better!