What is a whistleblowing hotline?
A whistleblowing hotline (or whistleblowing system) is a service that helps employees and others report malpractice and unlawful or unethical behaviour within the workplace.
Historically, the term ‘whistleblowing hotline’ referred to a telephone-based reporting service. It is now used as a collective term to describe all forms of whistleblowing systems, including online whistleblowing.
A ‘Whistleblowing Hotline’ is Also Known As…
Whistleblowing hotlines are often referred to by other names, including:
- Whistleblowing system
- Speak-up line
- Ethics line
- Confidential reporting system
- Security line
- Fraud line
- Loss-prevention line
Many organisations choose to name or ‘brand’ their hotline to reflect its desired purpose, or to encourage only certain types of whistleblowing reports.
Whistleblower Meaning: Defining a Whistleblower
To properly understand the role of a whistleblower hotline, it’s important to understand exactly what a whistleblower is. Our Why is Whistleblowing Important? page defines what the role of a whistleblower is and the importance of whistleblowing within your organisation.
To summarise, a whistleblower is someone who speaks up when they have noticed a potential breach of rules or a problem, typically this will be in the context of a workplace. This person would then report what they’ve found through a reporting channel (such as a whistleblower hotline), bringing the information to light and giving the organisation the information needed to start an investigation.
The legal definition of a whistleblower, for the purposes of legal protection, can vary from one country to another.
Why Implement a Whistleblowing Hotline?
There are many driving factors which make the implementation of a whistleblowing hotline an important and worthwhile task. If you find yourself asking whether your organisation needs to implement its own hotline, you should consider the factors listed below and the positive effects of a comprehensive whistleblowing procedure.
Comply with laws and regulation
A whistleblowing hotline can help an organisation comply with its legal and regulatory responsibilities..
The provision of confidential reporting channels, like a whistleblowing hotline, are a key feature of many whistleblower protection laws, such as the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive.
In the UK, whistleblowing channels are one of the six adequate procedures recommended by the UK Department of Justice for an organisation to prevent bribery and comply with the UK Bribery Act of 2010.
Organisations often introduce hotlines to allow employees to raise issues that they may feel uncomfortable discussing with a manager, such as sexual or racial discrimination, or information that might incriminate a peer.
This can help expose important issues that would otherwise remain undisclosed and help reassure employees that their concerns are taken seriously.
Gathering risk intelligence
For most organisations, there is no better information source than its employees.
But corrupt and illegal behaviour often goes undetected because employees fear the consequences of reporting them through existing internal channels.
Implemented correctly, a hotline can be a powerful tool in exposing illegal or unethical behaviour. Organisations therefore often place a high value on the risk intelligence that an effective hotline can provide.
Protecting brand reputation is often a key motivator when a business chooses to introduce a whistleblowing hotline.
If employees or third parties do not have access to a reporting channel provided by the organisation, they may choose to use alternative public channels, such as going to the press or taking legal action.
A whistleblowing hotline can give an organisation early insight into a potential issue and reduce the likelihood of potentially damaging information reaching the public domain.
What Are the Key Features of an Effective Whistleblowing Hotline?
Whistleblowing hotlines come in many shapes and sizes, but the most successful ones share several common features.
- Accessibility - Employees have easy access to the service by telephone, web, smartphone or in person, on a 24/7 basis. Native language services are provided where required.
- Confidentiality - Where national law allows, employees can report their concerns anonymously and in confidence and are kept informed on case progress, if they wish.
- Security and Compliance - The hotline is compliant with all legislation, including data protection and privacy laws, in all territories it covers. Policies are current and accessible.
- Visibility – New and existing employees are made aware of the service. Processes are in place to reinforce awareness through training and communication campaigns.
- Measurability - Reporting data tracks the performance of the hotline service and identifies areas of concern within the business. Performance is benchmarked against peers, where possible.
- Management support – The hotline and supporting programme is supported by a positive ‘tone from the top’. There is a zero-tolerance approach to whistleblower retaliation.
Many organsations make their hotline available to other stakeholders, like third-party suppliers and partners. This can provide an opportunity to gather even more data about potential risks to the organisation.
How Can Organisations Put a Hotline in Place?
Many organisations operate their own internal hotline, which may be managed by the HR department, legal counsel, or other internally appointed individual or team. This can present significant challenges around trust and confidentiality, particularly in organisations where employees are fearful of retaliation.
Organisations have many reasons to combine or replace their hotline with an independent, third-party service like EthicsPoint. It allows employees to report their concerns through independent, secure channels, along with many other benefits, including 24/7 access, multilingual coverage, analytics, and case management tools.
At Navex, we have years of experience in the implementation of whistleblowing hotlines as part of our overall ethics and compliance service. Just contact us today to find out how we can help your business.