Survey Results Are In: Retaliation Against Whistleblowers At An All Time High

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Today the ERC (Ethics Resource Center) released its National Business Ethics Survey.  The survey is chock-full of great information but it’s the retaliation stats that caught my eye.

65% of employees who witnessed misconduct said they reported the bad behavior – an all time high. That’s the good news.

But the bad news for organizations across America is that retaliation against whistleblowers is on the rise.  And it’s not just a slight increase.

Patricia Harned, President of the ERC told CNBC that:

The biggest news is that there has been a significant increase in retaliation against whistleblowers for reporting ethics and compliance violations. In ’07 it was 12 percent in ‘09 it was 15 percent and now its 22 percent.

That means that nearly 9 million Americans believe that their employer retaliated against them because they blew the whistle on misconduct.

That’s an incredibly high number.  It’s also a massive pool of potential plaintiff’s and government informants.

Employers Face a Daunting Challenge

In a time when retaliation claims are skyrocketing, more resources are available to whistleblowers, courts and legislatures are expanding rights for whistleblowers, and government enforcement agencies are heavily focused on protecting and rewarding whistleblowers, organizations should be thinking long and hard about how they can reduce the incidences of retaliation in their own organizations.

Allowing retaliation to continue against those who are willing to speak up will undermine ethics and compliance programs and drive employees towards external government agencies and private attorneys. No doubt, this will set the stage for expansive, protracted, and time-consuming litigation and investigations in 2012 and beyond.

Unfortunately for employers, the urge to retaliate against someone who is trying to expose misconduct is natural and strong, especially in a culture that is permissive of misconduct.

Organizations must curb this natural tendency by setting the tone at the top and ensuring that the message makes its way through every part of the organization. The culture must reward and protect those who alert management about unethical behavior, and punish those who try to harm employees willing to speak up.

Dedicated Whistleblower & Retaliation Training Is More Important Than Ever

The laws on retaliation are constantly evolving. Innovative theories will always be in play, new laws will be passed, and current laws will be relied on to expand legal protections for whistleblowers.  Retaliation claims are not going away.

So it’s time to join your colleagues and get proactive (see my prior blog post on this very topic—Trend Watch 2012: Employers Rolling Out Whistleblower and Retaliation Training). In 2012, employers are planning to extend their retaliation communication and training to all employees and managers.

We can no longer assume that employees understand their duty to report, or that managers fully understand their obligations to effectively receive complaints, act quickly, and prevent retaliation. Gone are the days of handing out a policy and asking (or hoping) that managers can bring it to life by sharing it with their employees.  In this new era of heightened whistleblowing and retaliation risk, dedicated and habitual Reporting & Retaliation training is a business imperative.

ELT’s legally engineered™ Whistleblowing, Reporting & Retaliation course, created in close collaboration with Littler, does just that. This newly released course is designed to bolster your internal compliance program and:

  • Help create a culture of compliance that values ethics and integrity
  • Educate employees about your organization’s values
  • Teach employees about your policies and their obligation to report suspected misconduct internally
  • Teach employees about the strict prohibition against retaliation
  • Teach employees how to report suspected misconduct
  • Teach managers about handling complaints and preventing retaliation
  • Help establish important legal defenses

To learn more about our solutions and how we can help you get proactive, click here.


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