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Is your ethics hotline silent by default or by design?

Juliette Gust (jgust@ethicssuite.com) is the President of Ethics Suite located in Scottsdale, AZ.

As confidential reporting service providers, we hear varied opinions from organizational leaders about the use of whistleblower hotlines and anonymous reporting. Some are staunch supporters, others vehemently opposed. Call them what you will—hotlines, ethics lines, helplines, snitch lines, integrity lines—most leaders feel strongly about whether to offer them to employees, and more strongly about whether to offer them to vendors and other third parties, and even more strongly about allowing reports to be addressed to a company’s board of directors.

It seems that many senior leaders in organizations of all sizes believe that if they don’t receive complaints of misconduct in the first place, they won’t have to address the underlying issues. But if no one hears an employee complaint, does it cease to exist?

Below are several ways organizations discourage reports of unethical or illegal conduct, unintentionally (or not). This often creates a larger problem: It creates the appearance of sweeping complaints under the rug—or worse, of covering up real wrongdoing. Leaders and management simply cannot ignore or tolerate fraud, corruption, or a toxic working environment at any level of an organization.

Note: The examples described in each section below are based on actual discussions.

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