Whistleblowing case management – the right people and process for the job
Whistleblowing case management is all about what happens when the reports come in. Having a robust, secure whistleblowing system is an essential element, but how do you systematically ensure that absolutely no cases simply slip through the cracks?
This article is the sixth in a series of blog articles publishing excerpts from WhistleB’s new handbook The ABC guide for establishing a whistleblowing solution that increases customer and employee satisfaction. The handbook covers matters such as resources, legal aspects, culture and data security in whistleblowing and provides a range of practical tips.
“It is in whistleblowing case management that the rubber hits the road. If the right experts follow robust procedures and treat whistleblowers respectfully, this will create trust in the whistleblowing system.” Gunilla Hadders
1. Create the right whistleblowing case management team
We’ve all read about companies where an incident has occurred and that subsequently suffer due to ruined brands and lost customers, despite the companies in question having a whistleblowing system in place. What happened to the whistleblowing case management here then? Most likely, the cases ended up being forgotten or hidden. This illustrates that the composition of the team of receivers – referred to as the case management team – has a determining influence on the success and credibility of the whistleblowing process.
You will need a team made up of professionals; individuals that can manage even the most sensitive of cases with integrity. Importantly, appointing dedicated resources for receiving whistleblower reports is the starting point for ensuring that all reports get processed appropriately. What skills should such resources possess? Appoint credible, trained professionals who can build trust when communicating with and asking for further information from the whistleblower. Whistleblower reports can vary widely in nature, covering matters as broad as fraud or environmental crime. Very few people have deep expertise in all possible subjects, which is why the person receiving the report needs to have the ability to assess the content of the report, determine whether it is a real whistleblowing or non-whistleblowing case, and process and delegate it appropriately.
The team should be characterised by integrity and trust. We have seen best practices at customers that set up a whistleblowing case management team consisting of roles from different parts of the organisation. The broad range of roles strengthens the integrity of the team and avoids teams that report to the same manager.
The whistleblowing team most often includes these competences: legal and compliance, internal audit and risk, ethics and HR. Having board representatives on the team is also becoming more common. Board members can assure that reports are received and managed for the best of the organisation.
Always be prepared for the worst. If someone in your team or the CEO or the Chairman is accused by a whistleblower – correct or not – this is an unpleasant situation and the team should have sufficient support and knowledge for how to act. We recommend defining the escalation paths before you launch your whistleblowing solution. The following steps are commonly defined:
- If someone in the whistleblowing team is accused, this person should be immediately excluded from the investigation.
- If your CEO is accused – report to your Chair of the Board.
- If your Chairperson is accused – report to the other members of the Board.
2. Decide whether to outsource whistleblowing case management or keep it in-house
There is no right or wrong here. In our experience many companies manage whistleblowing cases
themselves. A major advantage of this is of course that they know the organisation and can interpret reports in the right context. However, there are significant advantages to having an external party receive your reports. We would argue that the most important reason to use a provider that is external to your organisation is ring-fencing. If a report involves someone in the team, this approach ensures that the report never reaches the person in question. If the accusation is true, knowing about the report can give the accused time to remove evidence.
Another advantage is that external experts are usually more independent of the employees and managers of the company, in particular in small and mid-sized companies. This creates credibility
and trust that the whistleblower will remain anonymous and that the case will be handled impartially, professionally and with integrity.
Further, external experts are specially trained to handle whistleblower investigations in the right
way and can bring valuable support to management teams in discussions and legal proceedings.
3. Re-direct non-whistleblowing cases
The question of irrelevant or non-whistleblowing cases comes up in almost every whistleblowing
system implementation we help with. Case managers worry that they will spend time on reports that are of no value. Our experience with customers shows that this concern is largely unfounded, and the reports received are serious, for the most part.
It is nonetheless true that reports may be received that are not by definition whistleblowing cases,
such as regarding teams that do not cooperate well, promotions that could be questioned, managers or colleagues behaving inappropriately. These types of reports should be handled by other departments, such as Human Resources.
If you receive cases that are not considered as irregularities or whistleblowing – the right process is to re-direct the case to where the matter belongs. Once again, to garner trust in the whistleblowing process even non-whistleblowing reports should be processed professionally. To help with this, the whistleblowing system should allow the report to be securely assigned to the appropriate departments.
At the end of the day though a whistleblowing solution aims at unveiling misconduct, and our advice is to invest time in thorough communication about the solution so that you receive true whistleblowing reports. Help employees understand what constitutes a whistleblowing case, and what does not through your whistleblowing policy and guidelines. Inform them of alternative reporting channels for non-whistleblowing matters.
Gunilla Hadders, co-author and Senior Advisor at WhistleB, Whistleblowing Centre
+46 70 214 88 73, firstname.lastname@example.org