Don't gamble with your company's investigation process.

Learn about i-Sight software today

Is Your Ethics Hotline Working? Here's How to Know

Having an ethics hotline can help catch bad behavior within your organization, but only if it’s used correctly. Here’s how to know if it’s working.

Posted by Ann Snook on November 13th, 2019

According to the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI), “employees in organizations perceived to have a weak commitment to organizational values and ethical leadership” not only experienced higher rates of workplace misconduct, but also “were more likely to say that they did not report the misconduct they observed.”

One way to promote ethical leadership and a culture of ethics in your workplace is to implement an ethics hotline. However, simply having one in place isn’t enough to ensure employees report wrongdoing. Ask yourself these questions to figure out if your hotline is working and how to fix it if it’s not.


Case management software makes managing ethics hotline tips easier and more effective. Learn more by downloading our free eBook.


How Many Reports are You Getting?


To start, take a look at how many reports you receive each month through your ethics hotline. While the volume will vary depending on the size of your organization and your industry, the number should be neither very high nor extremely low.

If you’re receiving a large number of tips, this could indicate one of two things. First, employees could be reporting every small infraction as ethical misconduct. They may be unsure of what is considered an unethical act or could be using the tool vindictively. Schedule refresher training sessions to remind employees of your company’s ethics and compliance policies.

A large number of tips might also mean you have lots of ethical problems in your organization. Take each report seriously and launch investigations ASAP. Even if they turn out to be nothing, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to potential reputation damage and legal fees.

On the other hand, if your ethics hotline only brings in a handful of tips, you could have a communication issue. A fear of retaliation could keep employees from reporting. Add a note to the hotline website or phone message reassuring them of your zero-tolerance policy for retaliation. Or, employees may not even know that the hotline exists. Let them know through company-wide emails and easy-to-spot posters.


Set a tone of ethics in your workplace (and remind employees to use the ethics hotline) by hanging this poster in common spaces.


What is the Quality of the Reports?


Next, assess the quality of the tips you receive on your ethics hotline. Poor-quality reports mean that the hotline isn’t providing insight that can help protect your employees and organization.

Review past investigations that stemmed from hotline tips. How many of the reports were substantiated? If a large number of reports came to a dead end or turned out to be false, employees aren’t using the hotline as intended. Remind them of how to use the hotline, as well as what behaviors to report and when, in a training session that also reviews your organization’s ethics policy.

Then, determine how many tips were submitted anonymously versus by a named whistleblower. An anonymous reporter could fear retaliation and not want to be tied to the investigation. On the other hand, they may hide their identity because they’ve reported something they know to be false to get a coworker in trouble. When someone shares their identity, they show they’re serious about the allegation and are willing to communicate with investigators to stop the misconduct.


RELATED: 5 Ways to Ensure Your Ethics Hotline is Effective


How are You Using the Information You Receive on the Ethics Hotline?


Not using the data you receive on your ethics hotline wastes time, money and resources. What’s the point of running the hotline if you don’t use it to better your organization? In fact, collecting complaints of misconduct and not acting on them shows employees that you are just going through the motions and could even land you in legal trouble.

In 2015, a child died at the hands of her father after the Florida Department of Children and Families failed to warn police about a hotline tip they received on the man. The Colorado Department of Human Services changed the email address of their child abuse hotline without deactivating the old address, causing them to miss over 300 tips in four years.

Do you run reports to spot areas of risk in your organization? Using case management software makes this step easier. You can create one-click graphs and heat maps using hotline tip data to detect problem employees, managers, offices or even types of misconduct. You’ll not only catch ethics violations faster, but also identify the areas on which you should focus your preventive efforts.


RELATED: How to Introduce an Ethics Hotline System into Your Company


How Does Your Company Culture Complement the Ethics Hotline?


Even if your ethics hotline works well, it won’t reach its full potential unless you complement it with a culture of ethics. The ECI reports that “58 per cent of employees do not see a strong commitment to ethical leadership in their organization.” That’s why it’s key to set the tone at the top.

Show you’re serious about ethics by requiring all employees, including managers, to attend yearly ethics-related training sessions. Customize the training each year based on the areas of risk you identified through hotline tip data analysis.

Reward whistleblowers who report real misconduct, with recognition or praise in the company newsletter. Advertise the ethics hotline widely. Make it easy to report violations by offering multiple reporting avenues (e.g. webform, email address, dedicated phone number). Boost the commitment to ethics company-wide and your hotline should naturally work better.

Ann Snook
Ann Snook

Marketing Writer

Ann is a marketing writer at i-Sight Software. She writes about issues related to investigations of fraud, employee misconduct, corporate security, Title IX, ethics & compliance and more.

Book A Demo

To our customers: We’ll never sell, distribute or reveal your email address to anyone. Privacy Policy

Want to conduct better investigations?

Sign up for i-Sight’s newsletter and get new articles, templates, CE eligible webinars and more delivered to your inbox every week.