If your organization doesn't have an ethics hotline, now is the time to implement one. According to the 2022 ACFE Report to the Nations, organizations without hotlines experienced double the fraud losses annually. Forty-six per cent of fraud cases and 50 per cent of corruption cases are detected by tip, making hotlines the strongest method for discovering workplace issues.
However, implementing an ethics hotline that yields results can be harder than it sounds. Here are five ways to ensure that your reporting mechanism is a success.
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1. Establish a Culture of Ethics
If you want your employees to report breaches of ethics, you first have to establish a culture of ethics in your workplace. Developing strong policies is the first step.
Write a Code of Conduct with ethics in mind, then create ethics and compliance policies that support that CoC as well as the workplace culture you want to promote. Don't forget to include anti-retaliation commitments to ensure employees feel safe using your ethics hotline.
Regular training on these policies helps employees know exactly what behavior is expected of them and keeps the culture of ethics at the front of their minds.
Setting the tone at the top is essential to getting every employee on board with your workplace ethics culture. Including senior management in writing your CoC and designing your ethics hotline makes them more likely to support these developments. When the C-suite commits to transparency and fairness, other employees will follow suit.
2. Promote Your Ethics Hotline Often
There is no point in implementing an ethics hotline if no one is going to use it. Communicating the hotline regularly and through various methods reminds employees that it exists and how to use it.
When your ethics hotline goes live, train employees on your Code of Conduct, including the organization's ethics and compliance policies. Include thorough instructions on how to use the new tool. At the end of the training session, every employee should know:
- how to identify an ethics breach
- how to use the ethics hotline
- what to expect after submitting a tip and how to track it
Knowing exactly what to report (and how) ensures your employees won't abuse your ethics hotline or fail to report breaches.
Sometimes employees forget training the minute they leave the meeting room. That's why consistent messaging about the hotline is key. Hang posters in common spaces, include mentions of the ethics hotline in your newsletter and discuss results of the reporting mechanism at quarterly meetings. Making the hotline easily accessible to employees also makes them more likely to use it.
To catch every possible tip, make your ethics hotline available to vendors and clients as well as employees. This builds strong relationships and increases the likelihood of detecting ethics breaches.
Consistent communication about your hotline can boost the number of tips. Hang this poster in a common space as a visual reminder.
3. Guarantee Confidentiality
One of the main reasons employees are hesitant to use an ethics hotline is fear. Whether it is because they are afraid their coworkers will call them a snitch or because they fear retaliation from their employer, employees want assurance of confidentiality when submitting reports.
In addition to using a confidential, secure platform for your ethics hotline, include the option for reporters to remain anonymous. Discussing sensitive topics like ethics breaches may make employees uncomfortable, so giving them the right to remain anonymous makes them more likely to report potential wrongdoing.
Communicating your organization's commitment to preventing retaliation is also likely to increase reports on your ethics hot line. Employees don't want to get in trouble with their employer for doing the right thing.
David Reischer, attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com, says that "It is always a good idea to emphasize that a whistleblower is not hurting the company by reporting any wrongful behavior but rather are acting morally and legally. If there is a reward or compensation for calling the hotline, then that fact should be promoted too."
4. Create Multiple Reporting Methods
Offering multiple reporting avenues for your ethics hotline increases the chance that employees will actually use it. A dedicated phone line, webform, email or even paper forms give employees the choice of how to submit tips. Based on their location, age, position in the organization and an array of other factors, employees have different preferences for reporting methods. Covering all the options ensures you won't miss a tip due to employee discomfort.
In order to get the most out of the data you collect via your ethics hotline, collaboration across departments is imperative. Human resources, IT and ethics and compliance officers must work together to decide how to receive, record and manage hotline reports.
5. Manage Your Hotline with a Third Party
Designing and implementing an ethics hotline can be tougher than it seems. Using a third-party case management system makes it easy to capture every tip, create cases surrounding the investigations if needed and perform risk assessments. An external ethics hot line is not only secure but also saves you money by not needing internal IT staff to manage it.
"By outsourcing your hotline to an independent third party, you guarantee confidentiality and anonymity, which in turn encourages your employees to avail of the system," says Ollie Smith, CEO of the UK's Energy Seek. He also believes that "hotlines create an open, non-retaliatory and more productive workplace."
Case IQ's case management software helps you leverage your ethics hot line data to manage risk. Learn more here.
An ethics hotline that is not communicated well or implemented improperly may go unused or abused. Regularly evaluating, testing and auditing your reporting mechanism ensures it is operating efficiently and as intended.