How to Keep Whistleblower Reporting Internal ( to avoid the regulators!)

Four out of five. Last week, the Anti-Corruption Report quoted the former the Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower that four-fifths of 2020’s whistleblower awards went to people who reported internally before going to the regulators.[1] Whistleblowers consistently state that they reported externally when they felt ignored by the company. This means compliance officers need to do everything in their power to help whistleblowers to be confident in their choice to report.

Awards Going Up and Opportunities Expanding

Whistleblower awards continue to reach record heights. In October 2020, a whistleblower was awarded a record $114 million. The SEC’s press release stated, “After repeatedly reporting concerns internally, and despite personal and professional hardships, the whistleblower alerted the SEC and the other agency of the wrongdoing.”[2]

Under the US False Claims Act, $7.8 billion has been awarded to whistleblowers since 1986.[iii]

It’s not just America that’s in the whistleblower reward game. Canada, Korea, Ghana, and Slovakia have awards for certain whistleblowers, and the trend is likely to expand to other countries over time.[iv]

Tips to Keep Reports Internal

While there is no silver bullet for keeping all reports internal, there are numerous ways to ensure that whistleblowers feel heard and safe, thereby comforting them and saving the company millions (occasionally billions) in fines and lawyer fees. To a certain degree, it all comes down to communication – both with whistleblowers themselves, but also with the company. Here are some tips to keep reports internal.

Publish Your Data

Many companies are reluctant to publish statistics about their whistleblowing activities for fear that it will paint the company in a bad light. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forward-thinking companies often annually publish:

  • Total number of whistleblower complaints

  • Total percentage of complaints that were substantiated

  • Percentage of disciplinary actions take for substantiated reports, (e.g., 30% verbal warning, 50% written warning, 20% dismissed)

  • Year-on-year statistical changes

When these statistics are published, companies often use the opportunity to celebrate whistleblowers and to reinforce messages about the capacity to report anonymously and about confidentiality. Many would-be whistleblowers don’t report because they feel the company won’t do anything in response. By publishing statistics, employees can see that the company does respond to complaints. Trust comes from knowing that concerns are taken seriously and that action is taken against perpetrators. Transparency creates trust. Speaking of transparency…

Have the CEO Call…