What is a whistleblowing hotline?

Organisations must take all reasonable precautions to safeguard themselves and their employees from abuse, harassment, financial crime, and unethical behaviour. A whistleblowing hotline is a crucial piece of that puzzle. 

A whistleblowing hotline (aka an ethics helpline, fraud hotline, whistleblowing platform etc) is a service that enables members of an organisation (and sometimes those outside of an organisation) to report workplace misconduct, and unethical or illegal behaviour.

Though commonly associated with telephone hotlines, broadly, a modern hotline can take several forms, including telephone hotlines, web-based forms, mobile applications, other digital whistleblowing systems, or some combination of the above. 

What’s the value of a whistleblowing hotline? 

The purpose of a whistleblower hotline is to provide a conduit – at the earliest stage possible – for those with concerns about unethical behaviour, harassment, corruption, bullying, fraud or other breaches of an enterprise’s code of conduct or local laws, to report their concerns to an appropriate authority. 

There is now a wealth of research showing that ethical reporting hotlines are one of the most cost-effective and efficient methods of acquiring employee feedback on ethical breaches and form a crucial part of any organisation’s risk management strategy. According to one study, organisations using an internal hotline for reporting fraud can cut internal theft and fraud by as much as 50%. 

Whistleblower hotlines offer reporters a central point of contact for reporting their concerns anonymously. Free of worries about retribution or exposure, employees can speak openly about ethical lapses that may have occured within an organisation and those concerns will be passed on to the appropriate authority in an organisation for follow-up. 

Why are whistleblowing hotlines important? 

Organisations are under ever-greater pressure to take the safety and well-being of their staff seriously.

Globally, governments are pushing for more robust whistleblowing and compliance standards. Europe’s EU Whistleblowing Directive, New Zealand’s Protected Disclosures (Protection of Whistleblowers) Bill and Australia’s updated whistleblower protection regime under the Corporations Act 2001 all call on organisations to better manage their ethical responsibilites – that includes encouraging employees to speak up when ethical violations occur.

Not only does a whistleblowing hotline help organisations comply with local law and regulations, protect employees and provide reputational protection, a whistleblowing hotline system provides valuable risk intelligence data to organisations. 

In a nutshell, whistleblowing hotlines provide organisations with:

  • Legal compliance with local regulations
  • Healthier company cultures
  • Lower incidence of fraud, bullying and harassment and quicker discovery when breaches occur
  • A more professional image
  • Early action against ethical violations within an organisation

Whistleblowing hotlines can also have a preventive role – just the fact that a hotline exists within an organisation can be enough to prevent an opportunist from engaging in unethical behaviour such as harassment, fraud, or corruption.

The process 

Online systems way see whistleblowers filling out a case report form with details of their concerns, whereas a telephone whistleblowing hotline will put a reporter in contact with a trained protected disclosure officer who will guide the reporter through the report submission process and ensure that all the pertinent details are recorded. Protected disclosure officers can also offer support and advice to reporters who may be unsure about the correct protocol for making a statement. 

Generally, the details of a report will then be supplied to an internal case manager to follow up according to an organisation’s complaints procedure. The case manager will investigate the claims being made and keep the submitter informed of the case’s progress – usually without the identity of the complainant ever being revealed.  

Whistleblowing hotlines are generally folded into larger compliance management systems, such as EthicsPro® by Report It Now.

What are the key features of a whistleblowing hotline? 

A whistleblowing system should offer submitters:

  • Anonymous submissions and confidential case handling
  • Easy contact, 365 days a year, 24/7
  • A human interface
  • Multiple language options
  • Device agnosticism

The presence of a whistleblowing hotline needs to be visible to employees – they need to know it is there and that they are encouraged and supported to use it when they have concerns. Ongoing training and promotion of an organisation’s speak-up policies are crucial to its success. 

Similarly, a modern well-equipped whistleblowing hotline provides organisations with:

  • Legal compliance
  • An integrated approach to managing ethical concerns within the business
  • Automated reporting and benchmarking
  • Bespoke/tailored reporting forms
  • A transparent case – keeping everyone informed at each step of the case

Submissions to a whistleblowing hotline also provide a string reminder for organisational leaders that company culture ‘starts at the top’.  

It’s up to business leaders to promote an honest open culture, to drive accountability, to encourage employees to speak up, and to provide the resources for them to do so. 

Report It Now helps businesses build ethics programmes, providing customised training services, whistleblower hotlines and enterprise case management software. To learn more about supporting a bullying and harassment-free workplace, reach out for a free, confidential discussion.

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