WHAT IS THE VALUE OF HAVING AN ANONYMOUS HR HOTLINE?
Unfortunately, many business owners aren’t made unaware of employee complaints or concerns of company policy violations until it’s too late. To avoid this problem, attentive businesses implement formal processes for employees to report violations and complaints, allowing business owners to address these issues before they escalate beyond repair.
But what happens when employees are fearful of stepping forward?
The answer: Introducing an HR hotline, also known as an ethics hotline, whistleblower hotline and/or complaint hotline, where employees can report misconduct, violations, unethical behavior, violence, and any other complaints within the workplace. The HR Hotline allows employees the choice to report their concerns anonymously to a third-party HR representative who researches and/or investigates the situation and notifies the business of the issue(s).
Advantages of HR hotlines:
- Awareness: By having an HR hotline, employers are made aware of issues within the workplace immediately, which allows the company to promptly address the situation before it escalates into a bigger issue and/or potential lawsuit.
- Confidentiality: Employees are able to confidentially communicate with a third-party HR representative rather than management, which reduces the risk of retaliation from the company and protects an employee from “whistleblower” violations.
- Trust: The presence of the HR hotline demonstrates to employees that the company wants to be made aware of employee concerns and is willing to take the necessary steps to resolve the issue.
- Fact Finding/Unbiased Recommendations: The third-party HR representative is impartial to the situation and gathers factual information related to the complaint, resulting in an unbiased recommendation for resolution.
- Consistency: The third-party HR representative handles the intake of the call and/or following up from a recorded message, interviews and/or investigates the situation and takes thorough documentation notes by following a standard process, which ensures consistency.
- 24/7 Access: Employees are able to access the hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, allowing. If the employee calls after hours, he/she may leave a message on a recorded line detailing their complaint/concerns.
- Employer Protection: All employee complaints are fully documented through the HR hotline; therefore, employers are able to provide proof that a complaint was received and the company promptly responded and resolved and/or attempted to resolve the issue.
How do HR hotlines help protect employers?
As mentioned above, the HR hotline allows employees to confidentially disclose any workplace complaints/concerns without being subject to retaliatory behavior with protection under a federal or state whistleblower protection law. Employers are liable for workplace misconduct and violations; however, they are able to resolve employee complaints as soon as they are notified through the hotline. As a result, the HR hotline helps protect the employer in the event the employee chooses to file a formal complaint with another authority or bring a lawsuit against the company.
During a lawsuit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) places the burden of proof on the employer to prove it responded to and promptly corrected the complaint/concern even if the issue continued beyond the control of the employer. By having an HR hotline, the employer can effectively provide the needed proof for their defense.
What is “Whistleblower Protection?”
Let’s start by defining what a “whistleblower” is. A whistleblower is defined as a person (employee) who discloses to the company and/or proper authority, any acts of misconduct, employment law or policy violation, harassment, discrimination, etc., within the workplace in which the employee believes to be illegal and/or deceitful in nature.
Whistleblower protection under federal and/or state law, prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee for discloses a complaint or concern. Retaliation includes adverse employment action, such as termination of employment, pay decreases, change in job responsibilities and/or assignments, intimidation or harassment, etc. The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 applies to public and government employees; however, many states have enacted whistleblower protection laws that apply to all state public and private employers.
Business owners are encouraged to seek guidance and understanding from an HR professional or labor law attorney regarding federal and/or state whistleblower protection laws that may apply to their employees to ensure compliance under the law(s). Business owners are also encouraged to establish a company whistleblower and retaliation policy, which directs employees to the HR hotline to report any complaints and/or concerns.
To summarize, business owners will find great value in adopting and implementing an HR hotline for employees to report complaints and concerns. Employers are seeing the many benefits to having a hotline available to employees. Although there may be an expense to implementing a hotline, the cost benefit of reducing exposure and liability greatly outweighs the expense of the hotline.
This article does not constitute legal advice and there are subtle variations in employment law as it pertains to this topic, depending on where your business operates. It is strongly suggested that you seek consultation or legal counsel before making decisions about policies.
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