When your business or compliance officer receives a report of some unlawful action having occurred from an employee or whistleblower, you will need to take action quickly to investigate. Not only should you address the substance of the report, but also you should consider the reliability of the whistleblower himself, make reports to outside agencies if necessary, and determine if any systemic issues at your business need to be addressed.
Evaluate Report and Analyze Risk
When you first receive a report from a whistleblower, assemble a team to coordinate your business's response. You might include executives, Human Resources, public relations, and legal counsel. Take care to avoid conflicts of interest on the team, such as by not including employees who have had a bad relationship with the whistleblower.
The team should work together to review the initial report quickly and develop a response. For example, you may need to immediately make a report to external regulatory or law enforcement authorities, interview people mentioned in the report or temporarily stop work due to a health and safety risk. Your team should evaluate the potential impact of the report on your business and initiate steps to counteract any financial losses or adverse publicity.
As mentioned above, you may need to conduct interviews with employees or even third parties such as vendors to determine whether the whistleblower's report is accurate. Look for written and documentary evidence as well – emails, telephone records, surveillance footage, and other communications.
Your legal counsel should be involved in gathering evidence as well as team meetings. Including your attorney can permit the team to claim attorney-client privilege as to communications to and from the attorney. If the whistleblower report leads to a government investigation, having privilege could be important.
Reliability of the Report
Evaluate the reliability of the whistleblower's report as part of your team effort. If the whistleblower identifies himself, review his personnel file and history at the company. Protect his identity in the course of your investigation if possible to encourage cooperation and avoid discouraging future whistleblowers from making reports. If the whistleblower is anonymous, use the substance of the report and your investigation to determine the report's reliability.
Finally, consider implementing a formal whistleblower policy at your business, if you do not have one. The policy could encourage employees to come forward with important issues by promising confidentiality.
To find out more about whistleblowers and protecting your business, visit Gonsalves-Sabola Chambers online or call the office at +1 242 326 6400.
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