What is a Whistleblower Policy and Why Do I Need One?

The news today is full of claims of workplace wrongdoing, from insider corruption to sexual harassment.  Have you noticed that most of them have something in common?

The common element is that the complainant felt they had nowhere to turn to launch their complaint.

They had to “go public” and cause a big stir to get the attention their issue deserves, which gives them the nickname of “Whistleblower”.  (The dictionary definition is an employee, former employee, or member of an organization who reports misconduct to people or entities that can take corrective action.)

A Whistleblower Policy gives complainants assurances that there is a course of action to take when they need to go outside their normal chain of command or reporting practices due to the nature of the complaint.  The complainant is protected from retaliation and reprisal, and there are clear expectations on the investigation process.

A Whistleblower policy is important because Whistleblowers may be ostracized by their co-workers, discriminated against by future potential employers, or even fired from their organization – all of which are types of workplace bullying.  Under common law and some legislation provisions, anyone who retaliates against a legitimate Whistleblower is liable for significant damages costs in a lawsuit.

An important part about the Whistleblower Policy is that there are provisions for the report and investigation to be handled through an independent third party, which allows the complainant to report “anonymously” to an independent resource.   These third-party resources are investigative firms or independent HR practitioners.

Having an outside resource to turn to is very important in smaller organizations and those that have a large number of family members or other potential conflicts of interest for internal investigations.  Independent investigations can now also be ordered by the Ministry of Labour for some harassment cases.

But there is another impact that can be avoided by implementing a Whistleblower Policy: the negative media coverage!  If your organization has methods and practices to internally investigate claims of wrongdoing, then there is less likelihood that the complainant will feel the need go to the media or other public sources. Everyone is entitled to some privacy. And there are occasionally false complaints made, so it would be in everyone’s best interest to minimize the impact on reputations of people and companies.

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