In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, ethical dilemmas and questionable practices can sometimes be overlooked or deliberately ignored. Today, we are becoming more and more aware of the processes aimed at accountability within companies when it comes to shedding light on observed wrongdoings. We are talking about whistleblowing and whistleblowing complaints? But how should the process be organized? In this article, we describe some aspects that each company needs to understand before they introduce a whistleblowing system.
A whistleblowing complaint is a formal report made by an employee or concerned individual who has identified misconduct or unethical behavior within an organization. This complaint typically highlights activities that are illegal, unsafe, or a violation of company policies, and is often submitted through internal, external, or public channels.
Whistleblowing complaints serve to bring attention to misconduct that may have been intentionally concealed or inadvertently overlooked, thus providing an opportunity for organizations to address wrongdoings internally and mitigate potential damage to their reputation and/or finances.
Additionally, whistleblowing complaints serve a broader societal function by protecting the public interest. By shedding light on unlawful or unethical practices, whistleblowers contribute to the enforcement of laws and regulations, ensuring that organizations are held accountable for their actions.
•Financial fraud, including activities such as accounting fraud, insider trading, embezzlement, tax evasion, and securities fraud;
•Bribery and corruption which involves offering, accepting, or soliciting bribes to influence business decisions;
•Money laundering, involving processing funds derived from criminal activities to make them appear legitimate;
•Health and safety violations related to unsafe working conditions, noncompliance with industry regulations, or the negligent handling of hazardous materials;
•Employment law violations such as wage theft, discrimination, harassment, and failure to provide a safe working environment;
•Environmental violations such as illegal waste disposal, pollution, or practices that contribute to deforestation and biodiversity loss;
•Privacy violations involve unauthorized access, disclosure, or misuse of personal data can lead to privacy violations;
•Any type of discrimination or harassment.
Whistleblowing and grievances are both key mechanisms for addressing workplace issues, but it's important to understand the key differences between them. A whistleblowing complaint typically pertains to misconduct or unethical behavior that may have broader implications for the organization or public interest, such as fraud, corruption, or safety violations.
A grievance is an employee's formal expression of dissatisfaction with an aspect of their employment, often relating to perceived unfair treatment, unresolved conflicts, or breaches of company policies that directly impact the individual. Additionally, grievances are usually aimed at resolving personal disputes and improving working conditions, whereas whistleblowing seeks to expose and rectify organizational wrongdoings.
It is important to understand the difference as some national legal acts state that they do not categorize grievances as whistleblowing, which means no protection for those who report grievances.
According to the EU Directive, whistleblowing complaints can be reported in a wide range of areas of public interest. These include:
•Financial services, products, and markets, and prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing;
•Product safety and compliance;
•Protection of the environment;
•Food safety, animal health, and welfare;
•Protection of privacy and personal data, and security of network and information systems.
To create an effective whistleblowing system, companies should provide the following:
Multiple reporting channels;
Confidentiality and anonymity;
Protection against retaliation;
Transparent investigation process;
Feedback and follow-up;
Support services and resources, such as counseling or legal advice;
Accountability and corrective action to prevent future occurrences;
Regularly reviews and updates.
For reports to be valuable, they need to follow certain protocols, making sure that they give all the needed information for the investigation. Companies are highly recommended to communicate this information in their whistleblowing policy, in the employees’ training, and in the description on the reporting page.
A complaint should contain the following key elements to ensure that it is clear, comprehensive, and effective in addressing the issue at hand:
A detailed description of the issue;
Names of individuals involved;
Timeline of events;
Impact of the misconduct and the potential consequences of the reported issue.
Here are some general steps for reporting an anonymous person:
Determine the appropriate reporting channel;
Collect as much information as possible about the issue, including any relevant documentation, screenshots, or recordings;
Follow up if necessary and/ or seek additional assistance from a legal or support organization, if needed.
One can report irregularities in their work internally or externally.
If it is not a big matter and an employee feels comfortable talking about it, he or she can start by speaking with their manager or HR department. For more significant matters and/ or in cases of information being neglected by a supervisor, employees can choose to use an internal reporting hotline, if provided by their company.
Companies should encourage employees and partners to use this reporting method instead of resorting to external entities.
In the absence of actions from the company, an employee can contact a trade union or professional association. Alternatively, if the case calls for that, employees can send a report to an external whistleblowing hotline provided by a government body established by the country's authority.
In general, it could take anywhere from a few days to several months for the Labor Inspectorate to investigate and resolve a complaint. The timeframe can vary significantly based on the nature and complexity of the complaint.
However, there are timeframes that each investigation team must hold themselves accountable. In most EU countries, whistleblowers should receive a confirmation of the submitted report within 7 days, and feedback on the case resolutions within 3 months.
When a whistleblowing complaint is submitted, the following steps should be typically taken to address the reported issue:
Receipt of the complaint. Within 7 days whistleblowers should receive a confirmation that their report was received;
Review and assessment to determine its validity and relevance;
Within 3 months the investigation team should solve the case and provide feedback to the whistleblowers. If a case requires more time due to its complexity, the investigation time may be extended.
Legal protections for whistleblowers vary depending on the country and jurisdiction. However, many countries have enacted laws to protect whistleblowers from retaliation, discrimination, or other adverse consequences related to their disclosure.
Some common legal protections for whistleblowers can include protection from retaliation, confidentiality and anonymity, protection for a broader range of individuals, including contractors, volunteers, or other individuals, right to compensation, right to appeal, as well as access to support and assistance.
The European Union adopted the EU Whistleblowing Directive to provide a comprehensive legal framework for the protection of whistleblowers. The Directive requires all EU member states to transpose the provisions into their national laws, ensuring a consistent approach to whistleblower protection across the region. As a result, each EU country introduces its own legal acts in accordance with the Directive, taking into account their specific legal systems and contexts.
When using software or digital tools to handle whistleblower reports, several security measures should be implemented to safeguard the whistleblower's identity, such as:
Secure reporting forms with an option for anonymous reporting;
Data retention policies to ensure that whistleblower information is stored securely and deleted when no longer needed;
Regular security audits and updates to identify and address weaknesses in the software's security;
Secure communication channels with end-to-end encrypted messages and emails.
Whistleblower Software is the solution you need. With our intuitive platform, robust security measures, and customizable features, you can easily manage and process whistleblower complaints while safeguarding your employees' identities.