Blowing the whistle on misconduct and inappropriate behaviour at work

Sarah Tidey
March 15, 2017

In recent years, we have seen a number of high profile cases of corruption in the public sector – ranging from the expenses scandals that have plagued political life to misuse of public monies in the education sector. In this post, we discuss how to create a supportive culture for whistleblowing on misconduct and imappropriate behaviour at work.

Despite growing awareness, encouraging employees to call out misconduct and corruption at work is a challenging task. There can be serious disincentives to reporting including fear of retaliation, intimidation, harassment, even violence -as well as the risk of losing your job.

The risks of whistleblowing have been well documented by Hollywood in films such as On the Waterfront, The Insider and The Fifth Estate. In some cultures, whistleblowers are viewed extremely negatively.

In an attempt to overcome some of the barriers facing whistleblowers, the US Securities Exchange Commission has a whistle-blower’s ‘bounty’ program. Whilst there has not been a large number of cases resulting in awards, some significant payments have attracted attention and sparked debate here and overseas.

Some argue that rewarding whistleblowers promotes a culture of complaint and leads to the wasting of time and money in vexatious complaints. In Australia, we do not currently offer financial rewards for the provision of information by whistleblowers.


Corruption and whistleblowing in Australia

Legislation to protect whistleblowers now exists in all Australian States, although there is no Federal body with oversight of all regimes. In Victoria, the Protected Disclosure Act 2012 provides protection for those making complaints of corrupt conduct by a public body or officer or misconduct by Victoria Police or Protected Services Officers. In the private sector, many organisations now have their own programs to protect whistle-blowers.

Transparency International is a global organisation working in more than 100 countries to fight corruption. Its annual Corruption Perceptions Index scores countries on how corrupt their public sector organisations are seen to be. In 2016, Australia ranked 13th in the world with a score of 79, with 0 being highly corrupt and 100 being very clean. Overall the index suggests we are in good shape, with the global average score being a dismal 43. Interestingly however, confidence in our public sector organisations has dropped since 2012 when Australia scored 85.


How to create a supportive culture for whistleblowing

In Australia, our long standing culture of celebrating mateship and loyalty and being ‘anti-dobbing’ no doubt influences our psychology around calling out wrongdoing.

So what can organisations do to create an environment supportive of those wanting to report misconduct and corruption?


1. Establish clear procedures and channels for reporting


Offering employees a clear pathway through which to report concerns is imperative.

Many complainants we speak to are unclear how to report their concerns and to whom. If your organisation has a dedicated officer for Protected Disclosures or offers a complaints reporting service online or by telephone, make sure that information is available to all employees. Promote this regularly and don’t bury it somewhere on the website where it can’t be found.

The information provided should make very clear the difference between a protected disclosure and other types of complaints and should clearly define who will be afforded protection.

Some organisations we speak to argue that they don’t need such a process as ‘we don’t have any problems’. Yet it is clear that inappropriate behaviour and misconduct can happen at any organisation, no matter how well-managed. Acknowledging that aberrant behaviour is part of human nature by setting up a workplace complaints and misconduct reporting process does not negatively reflect on the culture at your organisation.


2. Offer Anonymity and Confidentiality


As the types of matters being reported are usually high stakes, it is important to ensure that those with concerns about workplace behaviour can raise these anonymously. In extreme cases, anonymity may be necessary for the security of whistleblowers. Any reporting process must be water tight to ensure information provided can be treated confidentially.


3. Protection against reprisals


For potential whistleblowers to have confidence in the process, your organisation must also demonstrate that it will take action to protect whistleblowers by taking action against those who retaliate or intimidate those who make a complaint.


4. Take action


One of the greatest deterrents to making a complaint is a lack of trust that the organisation will take action. Individuals will be far more likely to report misconduct where the organisation demonstrates a commitment to a fair and ethical culture and investigates complaints where appropriate. In this respect, the behaviour modelled by leadership plays a key part in setting the tone.


To learn more about this topic, register now for our free webinar “Do you know how your employees really feel”, presented by Worklogic Co-founder and Director, Rose Bryant-Smith at 12.30pm on Thursday March 23.

About Sarah Tidey

Sarah TideySarah Tidey has been a consultant with Worklogic for six years, with a focus on workplace investigations and reviews as well as training and policy development. Sarah gained a comprehensive understanding of risk management and people management from fifteen years’ experience in the legal and financial services sectors.Sarah applies strong analytical and communication skills in workplace investigations and training.

If your organisation hasn’t established clear processes to support reporting of misconduct and appropriate behaviour, then get started now! Worklogic offers a free workplace complaints reporting service, Integrity Line, that provides an independent, secure channel for your employees and stakeholders to report their concerns, anonymously if necessary. Book in for a free one hour consultation to discuss the workplace complaints reporting process at your work.

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References and Further Reading
International Chamber of Commerce anti-corruption publications

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Integrity Line

Integrity Line is an independent whistleblower service for complaints about inappropriate conduct at work, provided by Worklogic. Click here to visit the Integrity Line website.