Employee health and welfare are top priorities right now, and that shows no sign of changing anytime soon. Employers are sparing no expense when it comes to providing protective equipment, workplace safety improvements and intangibles like expanded sick leave and access to testing. There’s a growing culture of safety in workplaces.
In spite of an employer’s efforts, however, an employee may still raise concerns with the workplace safety measures. It could even rise to the level of a whistleblower complaint.
Whistleblower protection is more important than ever not only because of COVID-19, but because of the upheaval it has caused in the workplace. Employees need to feel safe at work and be confident voicing their concerns—especially when those complaints involve negligence, danger or failures on the part of their peers. This is why a whistleblower system that promotes reporting, transparent investigation and decisive action is necessary at any company.
Types of whistleblower complaints
Due to the disruption caused by coronavirus, companies may face broad whistleblower complaints. Here are some examples:
- Health and safety: Employees not following mask mandates, lack of proper sanitization practices, OSHA safe workplace violations, etc.
- Harassment: Harassment of remote employees through messaging and video apps, general harassment in the context of new workplace protocols, etc.
- Misappropriation: Using workplace technologies for personal gain, forcing employees to use personal resources for work purposes, etc.
- Wage theft: Forcing employees to work hours beyond those scheduled, asking employees to work without logging hours, etc.
Employees are reluctant to report wrongdoing if they feel they might be persecuted or otherwise suffer consequences. The reporting process for whistleblowers must be anonymous at every step, from filing a report to choosing not to reveal themselves to authority figures to discuss their complaint in more depth.
Take steps to ensure anonymity throughout any ensuing investigation and prevent attempts at witch-hunting by those accused. Employees who feel protected will speak up—presenting the opportunity for positive change without negative repercussion.
Above all else, your system for following up and investigating must be transparent and take the complaint seriously. Document everything—the details of the whistleblower complaint, action taken to investigate, the person investigating, any evidence found, etc. Proper documentation is part of due process and demonstrates good faith efforts to validate complaints and correct problems. This transparency shows clear follow-up and can be important if there are legal ramifications or similar complaints lodged in the future.
Take decisive action
If you uncover evidence of a problem during your investigation, address it immediately. More importantly, make the corrective action public, be it in the form of new policies or something more significant. Employees (especially whistleblowers) deserve to see clear and effectual change that results in a safer work environment. Each whistleblower complaint demands its own unique resolution that clearly and decisively addresses the complaint.
Whistleblowers bring attention to workplace injustices and present employers with a vital opportunity. Taking their complaints seriously and remedying them shows responsibility and integrity, further promoting the culture of safety. An HR consultant can help you set up a system that embraces this approach.
Employees will report wrongdoing when they feel safe doing so. It’s up to companies to create a whistleblower system that ensures meaningful change.
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