This new series of articles aims to give practical advice on whistleblowing in small and medium-sized companies, starting by answering the question “Who should receive whistleblower reports?” In future articles we will cover topics such as what is important when setting up the system for whistleblowing in small and medium-sized companies, communicating to encourage reporting and aspects of security.
When it comes to whistleblowing in small and medium-sized companies, sometimes the challenges faced are the direct opposite to those in larger companies. And here we have such a case. In larger companies, people may decide not to report their suspicions if the people receiving the reports seem so far up the chain that they don’t know if they can trust them. In small and medium-sized companies though, it’s more likely that everybody knows everybody, or almost. In this scenario, a potential whistleblower may feel uncomfortable reporting about a close colleague or to a close colleague.
What to do then? Of course the first step, whatever the size of company, organisation, SME or public authority, is to ensure that a simple, anonymous channel exists for whistleblower reporting, taking away some of the “process” and “confidentiality” barriers. Who should then receive the whistleblower reports?
Desired qualities of the person receiving whistleblower reports
Whistleblower reports can vary widely in nature, covering matters as broad as harassment, 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 and determine which specialist skills should be called upon. Ideally the person should have some legal knowledge and be trusted to handle sensitive information professionally and respectfully.
Where can small and medium-sized companies find those skills?
In larger companies the person receiving the report typically has a non-operational role and is often part of the compliance or legal function. But there are not many smaller companies that have such a department in-house. And having a fully dedicated whistleblower resource may well be unnecessary and costly.
Some of WhistleB’s smaller customers therefore decide to hire an external party to act as their whistleblower report receiver. The kinds of companies that have the right skills and services include law firms, auditing firms and specialist forensic investigation firms. These are the types of partners WhistleB has in its global network.
In addition to providing access to the right type of skills and minimising costs to an as-needed basis, an external party offers other advantages for whistleblowing in small and medium-sized companies. One benefit is that an external person is, in theory, more independent of the employees and managers of the company. For employees of smaller companies, this creates credibility and trust that the whistleblower is more likely to remain anonymous. Further, external experts are specially trained to handle whistleblower reports in the right way and can support management teams in discussions, investigations and other follow-up, if needed.
Remember to keep the whistleblower safe – internally and externally
Whether using an internal or external resource to receive whistleblower reports, companies must keep the identity of the whistleblower confidential, and preferably anonymous throughout the entire process. This is a critical factor in encouraging people to report in the first place. Moreover under the new EU Whistleblower Protection directive providing confidential whistleblowing channels will soon become law for all companies in the EU with 50 employees or more. Online whistleblower systems such as the one provided by WhistleB allow this through secure, seamless whistleblower case management.
For example, if an external party is to receive whistleblower reports on behalf of a smaller company, WhistleB’s system allows the company to add the external party as an approved user into the secure system, within just a few clicks. Once the external party has assessed the report and needs to designate it to the appropriate internal resource for follow-up, this happens within the same secure system. Alternatively, if an internal resource is to receive the report first, with a view to bringing in external expertise for case management, this also happens securely.
This is one of the neat things about the functionality of WhistleB’s Ready-to-Launch whistleblowing plan – specially designed for whistleblowing in small and medium-sized companies. With just a few clicks, the system can be scaled and adjusted allowing companies to work with whistleblowing in a flexible, but secure and professional manner.