Four best practices in whistleblowing case management – ensuring correct action once the whistle is blown
Whistleblowing case management is all about what happens once an organisation receives a message that flags up suspected misconduct. In other words, how the case is received, processed, investigated and closed, and how the whistleblower is kept informed throughout.
Receiving and replying to whistleblowing messages and handling cases correctly is extremely important because respectful whistleblowing case management demonstrates that people’s concerns are taken seriously. This generates trust in the whistleblowing system, and in the organisation’s leadership, and perhaps nudges people closer to daring to blow the whistle. Based on years of customer experience, this article provides our best practices in setting up your whistleblowing system for the ultimate whistleblowing case management.
But first, why is correct whistleblowing case management more important now than ever?
All public and private organisations in the EU with more than 50 employees will soon be obliged to comply with new EU Whistleblower Protection law. Amongst other organisational obligations, these laws clearly emphasise the importance of responsive, transparent and timely whistleblowing case management. When it comes to procedures for follow-up on reports, the law specifies requirements on confidentiality, acknowledgement of receipt, response times, competence of persons receiving the reports, communication with the whistleblower and feedback on how the case is being processed. The new EU directive also includes the right to report concerns externally while remaining legally protected. That’s a risk that any leader should seek to avoid.
Now then is the time for management and boards to act, to provide employees access to simple channels for reporting concerns and ensure their organisations offer compliant, effective and correct whistleblowing case management.
Best practice 1: Set up the right team for whistleblowing case management
We know from customer experience that the information that comes in via the whistleblowing system can vary. Content is often sensitive and sometimes incomplete. It can cover a wide range of areas or issues, sometimes containing serious criminal allegations. At other times the information may pertain to incidents that while worrying, may not constitute illegal activities. Reports can contain anything from financial, environmental, discriminatory or other forms of misconduct.
It is therefore not difficult to understand that the team responsible for whistleblowing case management needs to combine a wide range of skills, fields of expertise and knowledge.
What do organisations need to think about in composing their whistleblowing case management team?
- Who should receive the reports? Those who receive whistleblower reports need to have the skills to handle very sensitive data and be able to recognise the technical fields that need to be involved. According to WhistleB’s 2019 annual customer survey on organisational whistleblowing, the functions that are most often represented on the whistleblowing case management team are Compliance and Legal, followed by HR and Ethics.
- How big should the team be? While a broad spectrum of roles is encouraged in the whistleblowing case management team, the team should not be too big, for the sake of reducing the risk of information dissemination. In larger companies, the team may be composed of the ethics or compliance officers in the different countries. In other cases, there may be one central whistleblowing case management team at group level that delegates cases as appropriate.
- How should extra team members be added into the team? Given the potential variety of whistleblower cases, and the need to keep the core team as small as possible, additional skills may need to be connected into the whistleblowing case management process on a case by case basis. For example, very specific fields of law such as employment or environmental law, or specialist external investigations professionals may need to be called in. A different escalation path may need to be followed if senior managers are accused. The system must allow for such experts to be added securely.
- Who is responsible for reports that are not really whistleblowing matters and therefore fall outside of the whistleblowing case management process? Such reports typically raise HR issues, which while they may not be a serious legal crime, may signal that all is not right in the workplace environment. Such information can be valuable for Board members to receive. Whistleblowing is an increasingly important digital HR tool.
Best practice 2: Ensure the system has a secure whistleblowing case management tool, that preferably allows whistleblower anonymity
We cannot emphasise the importance of security in data management enough.
Critically, the whistleblower system needs to technically ensure and support data security to protect the confidentiality, and preferably the anonymity, of the whistleblower. For example, the whistleblowing team needs to be able to discuss the case securely, without using email. What this means is that that such communication needs to take place within the whistleblowing case management tool, through encrypted channels.
Another example involves translating messages that are reported in different languages. The whistleblowing case management tool also needs to securely integrate with translation technologies to allow for this.
Based on many years of customer experience, we know that whistleblower anonymity is essential for gaining the most value from whistleblowing. If whistleblowers are allowed to remain anonymous in reporting and throughout whistleblowing case management, there will be greater trust in the system and more insightful information is likely to be reported.
What does anonymity require from the features and the security of the whistleblowing case management tool? Essentially, the whistleblowing team needs to be able to conduct an anonymous dialogue with the whistleblower throughout whistleblowing case management. According to WhistleB’s 2019 Customer Survey, 50% of all whistleblower reports received lead to an anonymous dialogue. Often the whistleblower team does not receive all the information needed to begin with and has to ask the whistleblower for more details. In WhistleB’s system, the whistleblowing case management tool allows the whistleblower to upload pictures, films, files and so on, anonymously and securely. The tool also removes all IT addresses and metadata as far as technically possible and supports compliant and secure archiving and deletion of case files once they are no longer needed.
Best practice 3: Consider whether internal or external, third-party whistleblowing case management is right for your organisation
Some of our customers choose to outsource whistleblowing case management. What does this involve? It is when an external party or an ombudsman, sometimes in the form of a law firm, receives the whistleblower reports, categorises the cases, responds to the whistleblower, connects external expert resources to the team on a case by case basis, and so on.
The benefits of using external parties for whistleblowing case management is that it can ensure a greater level of transparency. The third party reviews each case, is independent of internal politics, and can more easily escalate cases to the board, for example, if senior members of the management team are implicated, or if other pertinent information arises that constitutes matters for the board’s attention.
On this point, irrespective of whether an external party is used for all or part of the whistleblowing case management, there should be very clear and trustworthy escalation procedures and channels in place so that no cases can get stuck where they should not.
Internal whistleblowing case management also has a number of clear advantages. An internal representative is better able to understand the context of any reports. They may have access to information from other areas of the business and can piece together the puzzle of events to give a clearer picture.
Whether internal or external whistleblowing case management is selected, it is nonetheless best practice to minimise data sharing, establish an organisation and process that can be trusted, and to seek help from specialist competences when needed.
Best practice 4: Be responsive in whistleblowing case management
Let’s end where we began this article. Always keeping the whistleblower informed will build trust in the whistleblowing service. If organisations set up their whistleblower system according to the above best practices, they will be in a good position to respond to whistleblowers professionally and pave the way for correct and compliant whistleblowing case management and fair investigations.
Are you interested in finding out more about whistleblowing and market-leading whistleblowing solutions? If so, contact WhistleB. We would be happy to share our insight and experience on what has worked best for other customers and provide you with a demo of our whistleblowing solution and integrated whistleblowing case management tool.
Karin Henriksson, Founder and Partner at WhistleB
+46 70 444 32 16, Email firstname.lastname@example.org
WhistleB is a global whistleblowing service provider and business ethics & compliance expert. We help customers to foster a safe and more transparent work environment. The WhistleB system is currently used in more than 150 countries.