Retaliation against whistleblowers takes many forms. A little person working at the White House recently reported a supervisor moved files to a high shelf out of her reach. Others report being followed, shunned, smeared, fired and worse. Whistleblowers often find themselves in a hostile work environment.
Julie Myers Wood, a corporate compliance consultant, thinks that works against both whistleblowers and their employers. In-house reporting programs with whistleblower protections built in are the way to go, writes Wood, who has a resume filled with high level federal government positions.
Institutions must shift their mindsets to view the reporting of regulatory problems as an opportunity to shine by addressing the problem, improving the institution and preventing large settlements.
In a column posted on the Forbes website Monday, she suggests companies work with whistleblowers to both protect the company and strengthen compliance.
Companies need to get to a place where they embrace the potential whistleblower by creating a transparent culture, instilling the shared value of compliance at all levels.
Her advice is not aimed at whistleblowers, some of whom have had bad experiences with in-house hotlines. Advocates suggest employees approach internal reporting systems carefully – they are there to protect the company and can be used against whistleblowers.
Wood encourages the development of internal reporting programs with the message – let’s try to keep this in house. For companies, that is a good thing. But whistleblowers have found that internal reporting isn’t always effective or to their advantage. They have other options. Working with law enforcement or government agencies, they can remain anonymous in many cases and often qualify for a reward.
Companies want to avoid having a valid claim reported to a regulator, the media, or a congressional committee, Wood writes. So, employees need to know that the company welcomes the information and will not retaliate.
This fosters confidence and trust from your employees. It is this trust that could be the difference between an internal reporting and an external whistleblowing situation.
A “culture of openness, integrity, honesty, and compliance” has to start at the top, she writes.
To set the tone, senior leadership should emphasize that it embraces a culture of compliance through periodic corporate communications, which should include town halls and messaging from the CEO. These communications should stress the value of compliance to the company and encourage employees to speak up if they see something.
Any internal reporting program has to allow for anonymous reports and ensure that they are followed up. She cites a recent Duke University Medical Center case – that whistleblower said he went outside to report research fraud because he felt Duke was not taking action.
Without a robust process, a failure to adequately examine incoming complaints could lead to greater exposure.
She closes by noting that, for the company, internal reporting allows them to address the issues raised by the employee and avoid the “external reputational harm inevitably caused by whistleblowers.”