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In part one of this three-part blog series, we’re going back to the basics. In this article, we’ll answer the question: what is a whistleblowing hotline?

What is a whistleblowing hotline?

A whistleblowing hotline is a channel that allows employees and others to confidentially alert an organization about suspicions of misconduct. It is an important tool for reducing risks and building trust as it enables managers to detect and act on possible misconduct at an early stage. Whistleblowing hotlines also perform a preventive role as their mere existence can make people think twice about committing acts of fraud, corruption, harassment and other improper practices. 

Whistleblowing hotlines were placed firmly in the spotlight in 2002, when the Sarbanes-Oxley Act required all listed American companies to have a channel and a process in place for whistleblowing. At that time the regular platform was phone and voice. This is why the term whistleblowing hotline is still used today, even though it is just as likely to describe a digital solution and a broader whistleblowing system. In this post we will describe the various types of whistleblowing hotlines.

A whistleblowing hotline is a channel that allows employees and others to confidentially alert an organization about suspicions of misconduct. It is an important tool for reducing risks and building trust as it enables managers to detect and act on possible misconduct at an early stage.

What kinds of whistleblowing hotlines exist?

Digital whistleblowing hotlines

Digital whistleblowing hotlines are channels allowing people to report concerns online through a web-based whistleblowing hotline service. The main advantage is this solution very easily enables whistleblower anonymity, a key factor for encouraging people to report suspicions without the fear of retaliation or reprisal. They also allow a whistleblower to attach files, both text and images, as potential evidential material.

Online whistleblowing hotlines also keep all data in one place, and most importantly, secure, in full compliance with GDPR and other applicable laws such as the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive. Compliance can be a built-in part of the whistleblowing hotline software, making the burden of compliance somewhat lighter for the organization. Finally, whistleblower case management and user activity can be logged as an automatic functionality within digital whistleblowing hotlines.

Phone-based whistleblowing hotlines

Phone-based whistleblowing hotlines allow people to report via a regular phone call to the appointed whistleblowing champion. While, like digital channels, they can be made available 24/7/365 and allow some amount of anonymity, they are less secure as the information cannot be encrypted all the way from the whistleblower to the receiver of the message.

Internally staffed, phone-based whistleblowing hotlines are less cost-efficient because they do not allow integrated case follow-up, meaning information will have to be manually logged. Since they do not allow a range of devices to be used, they are also less user-friendly. However, in countries where internet access is not widespread, or for employee groups who are not used to writing, phone-based whistleblowing hotlines are important to have available.

Face-to-face whistleblowing

Face-to-face whistleblowing is an “open door” option and different from traditional whistleblowing hotlines. It is a way for a manager or other superior to show the whistleblower their concerns are being taken seriously, and information should be reported to those who have the responsibility and skills for dealing with whistleblowing cases. While the whistleblower receives immediate feedback, there is no automatic data protection and no efficient case follow-up. Clearly, there is no anonymity in this kind of whistleblowing, requiring a huge amount of trust between the parties concerned, a clear disadvantage compared with other whistleblowing hotlines.

However, it is important to note that open-door whistleblowing is an important part of a speak up culture and should be made available and encouraged throughout the organization as a way to ensure concerns are addressed early based on feedback.

Whistleblower email address and inbox

Whistleblower email address and inboxes are another form of whistleblowing hotline some organizations opt for. While they are simple and inexpensive to set up, they come with significant risks. Emails cannot be fully encrypted, so data is insecure, placing the organization at risk of non-compliance with legal requirements. Messages may also be read and tampered with by unauthorized parties as they pass between hands.

This lack of security significantly reduces the trust that potential whistleblowers will have in such a form of whistleblowing hotline, thus reducing the likelihood they will report concerns. Finally, as with telephone reporting, email whistleblowing does not come with integrated case follow-up and management, making this not only a risky but also an inefficient form of whistleblowing hotline.

What is a whistleblowing hotline system?

“Whistleblowing hotline” is a misleading term, as mentioned earlier. It suggests a channel, like a simple phone line, for people to blow the whistle about a concern. However, the world of whistleblowing has professionalized since the early 2000s, as companies learn that opening to whistleblowing is also a commitment to employees and stakeholders cases will be managed appropriately. This requires more than a channel through which people are encouraged to make reports, be that by phone or online. More often than not, the traditional whistleblowing hotline today is just one component of a broader system.

As providers of a whistleblowing hotline service, this is certainly how we encourage our customers to approach corporate whistleblowing. So, what does this broader whistleblowing hotline system contain?

Stay tuned for parts two and three of this series where we’ll cover the components of a whistleblowing hotline system.

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