Since the 1990s and 2000s, more and more organizations have been required by governments to provide their employees with safe methods to report misconduct like fraud, waste, harassment, etc. At present, most well-sized organizations utilize some sort of ethics hotline to fulfill this requirement. This hotline might be called an ethics line, compliance hotline, speak up hotline, or integrity hotline. Whatever it is called, such a line is for employees, the eyes and ears of any organization, to provide information anonymously (if they wish) of any questionable actions they become aware of. In today’s post, we’ll show you how ethics hotlines work and give you a look at how reports are handled over a compliance call so you can have full confidence in using your company’s ethics hotline.
What is an Ethics Hotline?
As the world grows more interconnected, disruptions within one organization, big or small, can ripple out and be felt outside those companies. This is why there is an awakening in the corporate world of business ethics. And as companies grow, it is more difficult for the people at the top to know when unethical activity is taking place; therefore, there is a genuine need for employees to make reports of potential misconduct so leadership can take action and put their people back on the ethical path.
Hotlines exist to help a company maintain a commitment to ethics; otherwise, there could be a loss of millions of dollars in fines, reputation damage, and productivity. Hotlines do exist as a way to locate and terminate troublemakers because leaders need their employees to trust the hotline reporting system or else there is no point in having a hotline.
What Can You Report with an Ethics Hotline?
The beginning of the reporting process starts with the potential violation itself. You can call a hotline to report anything you believe is misconduct or a violation of your organization’s policies:
- A co-worker is sending unsolicited sexually explicit text messages to another.
- Your boss changed your schedule to hours she knows you cannot work and you think it is retaliation.
- A supervising manager did not hire a candidate with twelve years of experience to be her assistant manager and instead hired her stepdaughter who has no experience.
- An outbid vendor was granted a contract only after giving the director of supply chain a ride in a private jet to a vacation resort.
- A lab technician is not labeling specimen vials appropriately and nurses do not know who to collect specimens from.
- A security officer is telling staff when fire drills are scheduled in advance.
- A surgeon is coming into the operating room while appearing to be intoxicated.
There are infinite possible forms of misconduct and the caller to the hotline does not need to be 100% certain that he or she has witnessed a violation because their report will go to experts who can determine if a violation has transpired.
Is an Ethics Hotline Really Anonymous?
Once you believe a violation has occurred and call into your company’s ethics line (finding the telephone number online, in your handbook, or on a poster), the next thing you will want to decide is whether or not you wish to remain anonymous. You can remain anonymous if you wish, but if you believe you are the victim of some sort of misconduct you might want to give your name. Do not forget that the information you give on the call is all that the report’s recipients will have to investigate the issue, so when you give your report make sure you think about what an investigator will need to review the concern.
What Happens on a Compliance Hotline Call?
Depending on who your company has employed to be their hotline vendor, there can be variations in the reporting process. Some hotline operators will go through a list of questions given to them to fill out by your company. Some operators will speak to you in the form of a conversation while taking notes. And some will do both. The standard practice for ComplianceLine operators is to ask a few initial questions, such as if it is your first time calling, what location your issue is in regards to, is there a specific department or unit the issue is taking place in. For any question, you can choose to withhold the information, which is done when someone fears providing a certain detail would reveal their identity.
After the initial questions have been asked, a ComplianceLine operator will use something they refer to as an “adaptive interview” where they will ask you for a summary of your issue and then ask questions for unclear information. We understand you may not be an expert on the subject matter you are reporting, and we know what bits of information to ask for which you may not have thought important enough to mention. Remember, the hotline operators take your report from a neutral standpoint, which is a benefit if your company uses a third party to operate its hotline. The operators’ primary concern is for getting the facts and not making your company look good.
Once you have finished providing your report, you will be provided with a reference number for the report and can call back in the future to state further issues related to your report. Sometimes you will be given a callback date, which is a date for you to call the hotline back because there might be a message or notice with the hotline operators provided by your company’s compliance team. These messages might be acknowledgments, investigation results, or requests for more information. You are not obligated to call in for a follow-up, but depending on the circumstances of your concerns this might be something you would want.
What Steps Are Taken After a Call?
After the report is taken, it is only a few hours until someone at your organization’s corporate level reviews your report and determines if an investigation is warranted. These corporate employees are members of a compliance or legal department with people who report directly to the company’s board of directors or other high-ranking leaders. Corporate does not have your name or identifying information about you if you are anonymous. For ComplianceLine, we do not record our calls and assure callers they are not being recorded, so there is nothing we could give corporate that would identify your voice. ComplianceLine wants to make anonymous callers feel as comfortable as possible and not think their call is dooming them to be retaliated against.
Your company’s compliance team will investigate the concern and take corrective measures where needed. Sometimes the details of this will be shared in follow-ups, but most often the details of the investigation will be held in confidence. Even if your reported concern is not an actual violation, it could still provide corporate with insights about your workplace and problems with communication.
Practice Ethics and Report Concerns with Compliance Hotline
It is important to remember that it is in the interest of your company for you to use its ethics hotline. We do not live in a perfect world, but this does not mean we should surrender our ethics and morality. Reporting misconduct must serve as a way to create and maintain a culture of ethics. If you want your workplace to be more ethical and more moral, then it will be necessary for you to do your part, so pick up that phone and call.