Retaliation has lately become a reoccurring theme in the ethics & compliance world. It seems that not a week goes by that there’s not a big story about a company that has retaliated – or allegedly has retaliated – against a whistleblower. Retaliation is big news, and managing risk and compliance so that the issue of retaliation is taken off the table should be big news as well.
Just recently, a executive-level financial advisor for a major investment banking firm filed a whistleblower complaint with the Department of Labor accusing her boss of retaliating against her and then firing her because she was helping her company in an investigation into the boss’ suspect activities. She claimed the company’s HR department refused to take action to stop the retaliation and the company’s compliance department told her that her claims wouldn’t be worthy of any SEC scrutiny. This whistleblower repeatedly told her company she was “suffering the consequences of retaliation” in her daily work activities – but apparently nothing was done about it, and she was eventually fired and now she is suing.
What does this say for the merits of whistleblowing, of trying to do the right thing? Not all that much. Anytime that an employee or other key stakeholder feels motivated and compelled to put their beliefs and reputation on the line and file an official compliant via an ethics hotline, that question is asked. Sometimes it’s asked in a whisper, other times it’s shouted out.
Yes, more typically a whistleblower’s compliant is taken seriously and followed through to resolution, and is either dismissed or the appropriate action is taken. Our recent 2011 Hotline Benchmarking Report found that 68% of all fraud reports led to action being taken, and that’s a healthy number. Managing ethics and compliance initiatives so that retaliation never becomes an issue may be a top-shelf goal, but it’s worth reaching for.
Retaliation seems to take place most often when a whistleblower’s claims aren’t taken seriously or when there is no resolution to an issue. When the day is done, isn’t that why we come forward, why we risk the scrutiny and the possible backlash of filing an ethics report – because we want resolution?