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The Importance of a Whistleblower Policy for creating trust

Tip-offs are one the most common method for detecting fraud and corruption, and employees are by far the greatest source of providing these tip-offs. Part of the reason why whistleblowing mechanisms are so successful is because tip-offs can be reported at anytime from anywhere. It is therefore critical that organisations invest in an effective whistleblowing hotline to assist in preventing and detecting fraud and corruption.

Simply having a whistleblowing hotline is not enough though. Organisations have a responsibility to ensure that the whistleblowing hotline is well known and trusted. An organisation’s whistleblowing hotline could have little activity because there is little to report. However, lack of use of the hotline could also be due to poor communication of the hotline, lack of trust in management, or fear of retaliation.

Historically, whistleblowers have faced severe retaliation for speaking out about illegal or untoward behaviour within their organisations. This predicament is amplified in the South African context, where Whistleblowers are often likened to ‘impimpis’ or apartheid-era informants. Accordingly, it is of utmost importance that Whistleblowers are provided with sufficient protection to ensure that they do not face any retaliation for uncovering fraud or corruption in their organisation.

Employees are protected under the Protected Disclosures Act (PDA), which prevents any form of retaliation against them in the workplace. However, the PDA alone is insufficient to provide the necessary assurance to employees that they will be protected should they speak out. Instead, Whistleblowers need a clear and explicit endorsement of the PDA from Management.

One way of endorsing the PDA, is by adopting and implementing a Whistleblower Policy. Adopting such a policy would be a clear indication that management not only encourages reporting, but also guarantees protection to employees who do report matters.

In order for a Whistleblower Policy to be effective, it needs to clearly set out the different mechanisms available to Whistleblowers for blowing the whistle. These mechanisms should ideally include both internal mechanisms, such as an Ethics Office or dedicated manager, and external mechanisms, such a Whistleblowing Hotline. Furthermore, the policy should outline exactly which matters should be reported under the Whistleblower Policy and provide an alternative mechanism for HR-related concerns. 

Additionally, a Whistleblower Policy needs to outline the procedures that follow once a Whistleblower makes a disclosure. It is crucial, for the sake of transparency, that Whistleblowers know exactly what to expect in terms of possible outcomes and timelines, after making a disclosure. Importantly, the Whistleblower Policy also needs to allow Whistleblowers to remain entirely anonymous throughout the process and should never require Whistleblowers to provide irrefutable proof, to encourage as much participation as possible.

Employees can play an invaluable role in exposing any untoward activity within an organisation. However, in order to harness the potential, management needs to clearly and unequivocally endorse reporting, as well as create the appropriate internal structures and procedures to protect Whistleblowers. Whistleblowers risk a lot by speaking out and they are much more likely to do so if they have confidence in their organisation to protect them.

When you implement the Advance Call Ethics and Fraud Hotline solution Advance Call will provide awareness material and training, helping to ensure an effective whistleblowing hotline. Get more information here.