Creating a No-Tolerance Approach to Retaliation

January 13, 2023

Over one-quarter (28 percent) of organizations surveyed in our 2022 Regional Whistleblowing Hotline Benchmark Report did not confirm that an anti-retaliation policy was a part of their organization’s confidential reporting and investigatory program. A similar number of respondents (29 percent) did not indicate that their company had a reporting hotline or internal channel for whistleblowers to raise concerns. 

That’s a huge problem. Here’s why. 

By not having a solid anti-retaliation policy, you risk sending a message to employees that their voices are not valued and that speaking out against wrongdoing is discouraged. This can lead to a toxic and hostile workplace environment – undermining their trust and negatively impacting morale. Faced with the prospect of retaliatory behavior, concerned employees may be too afraid to report any potential misconduct or violations. This also risks your organization’s ethical or legal violations going unchecked and unresolved. 

In many countries, retaliatory actions are illegal and can result in costly litigation and fines. And as fear of retaliation can be a barrier to fixing other organizational issues, it’s crucial to address your stance on retaliation proactively. 

So, what can your business do to implement effective anti-retaliation policies and procedures?  

Establish clear anti-retaliation policies and procedures 

The first step guiding employee actions and organizational expectations is clear policies and a code of conduct outlining acceptable behaviors. This policy should highlight channels for reporting wrongdoing, such as a confidential hotline, an online portal, or even an anonymous email address for employees who don’t want to disclose their identity. Channels must be communicated to employees so they know how and where to report any issues.  

The policy should include specific language prohibiting retaliation against a reporter. To improve awareness of employees who may not understand fully what this means, this should also have a list of the behaviors classified as retaliation, including passive behaviors such as not providing equal work opportunities and leaving employees out, as well as more active behaviors, such as harassment and cyberbullying.  

Policies should make clear that there is no tolerance for retaliation and outline the disciplinary process for what happens if someone acts in a retaliatory way.   

Create an open dialogue around business issues 

The second step is to work towards speaking up as a normal part of the everyday business process around managing risk and employee welfare. This goes beyond policies and must be a living, breathing part of organizational culture.  

A culture of silence around issues seen or heard means the risk of management missing out on valuable information – all of which could potentially improve health and safety, reduce risk, and enhance operations over time. By positively framing how raising concerns is beneficial in the long term, organizations move towards a culture where everyone would be willing to speak up if they see something wrong. This creates an environment where retaliatory behavior cannot thrive and risks are identified far earlier. 

Encourage feedback at all levels 

As a third step, organizations should encourage employees to provide honest feedback on any issues they may be experiencing in the workplace, especially if they are aware an issue has already been raised in a similar area.  

This could include focus groups or surveys where employees can provide anonymous feedback to help risk and compliance managers identify areas that might need addressing before they become real problems – and therefore taking the pressure off individuals who may need to speak up by identifying issues as a whole. 

Importantly, positive action should be encouraged and promoted by sharing what the organization has done to correct problems identified through a report. Whether this is misconduct or retaliatory behavior, transparency over the steps to resolve issues raised is an excellent way of earning employee trust and cultivating a healthy speak-up culture.  

Provide training on recognizing retaliation 

Another crucial step is to provide regular whistleblowing, reporting and retaliation training for all employees. This training should cover topics such as what constitutes retaliation, how to recognize it, how to report it, and what protections are in place for those who do report it. This should be rolled out regularly as part of new employee onboarding and to remind existing employees of the resources available. 

Employees and managers should also be trained on what to look out for if they are made aware of potential retaliatory behavior towards a team member or other party. This will help ensure that all staff members understand their rights and responsibilities around information or reports disclosed and that these issues can be handled sensitively. 

Investigate complaints thoroughly 

Finally, organizations must ensure that any reports of potential retaliation are taken seriously and investigated promptly and thoroughly by qualified personnel. All findings should be documented, and appropriate corrective action should be taken.  

By taking these steps, organizations can create an environment where employees feel safe speaking up about their concerns and feel that issues raised aren’t simply filed away and forgotten after resolution.  

With clear whistleblowing procedures, regular training sessions, and encouraging an open culture, organizations can ensure the people raising concerns about business issues or misconduct are not mistreated afterward. 

Download the NAVEX Hotline and Incident Management Benchmark Report to learn more about trends in risk and compliance, including additional data on reporting and retaliation worldwide. 

Download the 2022 Regional Whistleblowing Hotline Benchmark Report 


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