Whistleblowers: What HR needs to know

Having processes to escalate complaints can prevent serious crimes or a public relations disaster

Whistleblowers: What HR needs to know

Feeling confident there’s no corporate crime going on in your workplace?

Could it be that your complaints procedures are failing to find it?

A legal expert urges HR and employers to set up internal processes to catch any potential risks, before they can explode into a damaging public relations disaster.

“Most corporate in-house lawyers that I advise and corporate compliance officers would prefer to get an internal whistleblower complaint and deal with the problem before it gets more serious to the point where it might result in illegal activity, and therefore external whistleblowing,” says Norm Keith of Fasken Martineau.

“I think most corporate executives are very responsible, for all sorts of reasons, they don’t want problems to occur in their workplace, of any kind, that might be called white collar crime. Therefore they want robust policies and internal whistleblower programs and to be able to try to nip things in the bud before they got worse or before a regulator starts to look into it.”

He adds that most responsible employers have been working at corporate compliance for years, even decades, with solid corporate conduct policies and internal whistleblower hotlines, then ensuring they follow up any complaints or concerns, to show “that the company’s sincere about having ethical practices.”

“That all becomes part of a culture that promotes that sort of thing.”

The Ontario Securities Commission moved a year ago to “provide bounty” for whistleblowers, showing Canada is following the US example of paying for reports of white collar crime and securities violations.

Keith says it’s imperative that companies take steps to put policies and processes in place to ensure they’re not caught out and made an example of.

“Reputational risk and damage associated with even leaks to the media or full-blown investigations and prosecutions, in any type of white collar business crime, are terrible for business reputation, affect public companies in terms of declining stock price and investors not wanting to be associated with those companies,” he says.

“It takes very little to lose a good reputation but it takes a lot to rebuild it.”


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