Originally published in January, 2020, on Spark Compliance and republished here with permission from Kristy Grant-Hart.
“If we could sum up all the causes of hurt, pain, and hatred in one word, it would be expectations.” - Ancient Proverb
Imagine the courage it must take to blow the whistle on unethical activity at your job. Whistleblowers experience fear of being fired, being found out, retaliated against, and losing their reputation, while wrestling with the desire to do the right thing. But once whistleblowers have made their report, they’re often disappointed and disillusioned.
One survey found that 90% of whistleblowers reported internally before filing qui tam lawsuits.
Surveys and academic research shows that the vast majority of whistleblowers report internally before reporting to regulators or the media. One survey found that 90% of whistleblowers reported internally before filing qui tam lawsuits. Why did they report outside? One of the major reasons was their perception that nothing was done about their report.
Once an employee has blown the whistle, they want to know what’s going on. Many times the compliance officer is so busy protecting confidentiality and keeping the investigation going that communication with the whistleblower falls to the last priority. In order to manage expectations for the whistleblower, be sure to do the following.
1. Discuss Timeframe
Whistleblowers may not be aware of the length of time an investigation can take. You may be juggling several investigations that are already in progress, and not be able to devote time immediately to another investigation. Or, perhaps you realize that the issue brought forth by the whistleblower is complex and will require several interviews and the obtaining of many documents. Perhaps the issue is big enough that you need to bring in outside counsel to perform the investigation under privilege.
Whatever the factors, as soon as you can estimate a timeframe for the investigation, share that information with the whistleblower.
Whatever the factors, as soon as you can estimate a timeframe for the investigation, share that information with the whistleblower. Setting expectations about timing can prevent negative feelings festering for days or weeks while the whistleblower perceives that nothing is being done.
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2. Schedule Regular Check-Ins
Investigators often get so wrapped up in the investigation that they forget to check in with the whistleblower to tell them what is going on. Set regular calls or meetings, ideally every one to two weeks, to keep the whistleblower apprised of the investigation. Even if you can’t share details on the investigative process or current conclusions, checking in with the whistleblower to assure them the investigation is continuing will help them feel better about their complaint.
3. Share Outcomes
To the best of your ability (keeping in mind confidentiality), share the outcome of the investigation with the whistleblower. If the investigation was inconclusive or found that there was no issue, this may be hard for the whistleblower to believe. Share as many details as you can so that the whistleblower can resolve that a full and complete investigation took place. Even if the whistleblower isn’t fully placated, if they believe that a proper investigation took place, they are less likely to report externally, and more likely to let go of the grievance over time.
4. Check-in Three, Six, Nine & 12 Months Later
By checking in with the whistleblower at regular intervals, you’ll show that you care about them and that you still have their back.
Retaliation frequently occurs immediately after the submission of a whistleblower complaint. However, it may also creep in during the ensuing months. Managers who have been trained on anti-retaliation may gradually stop focusing on subtle forms that can arise such as failure to assign good projects or neglecting to invite the whistleblower to social events when the rest of the office is invited. By checking in with the whistleblower at regular intervals, you’ll show that you care about them and that you still have their back. You’ll also be able to nip any retaliation in the bud quickly instead of allowing resentment and poor practices to build up over time.
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5. Evaluate Performance Reviews for Five Years
Check-in on the performance reviews of whistleblowers year-on-year to see if there is any evidence of potential retaliation. Performance may change over time, but if there is a steady or marked decline in the employee’s evaluations, there may be a pattern of retaliation appearing that needs to be checked.
By setting expectations up front, checking in regularly during the investigation, and following up after the complaint, you’ll allow the whistleblower to feel confident that he or she did the right thing. And that can make all the difference next time bad behavior is seen at the office.