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Protecting whistleblowers from retaliation in your business

It may have been a shock when an employee came to you with information about wrongdoing in your company. Perhaps it involved acts of discrimination by a trusted colleague or sexual harassment from one of your managers. Maybe the employee even pointed the finger at you. You have a lot to do to deal with this situation including an investigation, perhaps the involvement of law enforcement, and possibly the discipline and/or termination of the offender.

How you deal with the whistleblower is also something about which you should be concerned. Whether you feel offended at your employee's accusations or you genuinely want to protect your worker from further harm, it is critical that you proceed with caution to avoid appearing as if you are retaliating against him or her for blowing the whistle.

Avoid the perception of retaliation

The last thing you want is for an already bad situation to get even worse. Whether the whistleblower is justified in lodging a complaint or is overreacting to an innocent incident, your reaction and the reaction of your staff should not demonstrate retaliation. In other words, you may find yourself facing even more serious consequences if you impose or allow any negative actions against the employee as a result of his or her reporting the offense. Examples of retaliation for whistleblowing may include:

  • Firing the whistleblower
  • Giving the whistleblower a negative write-up
  • Reassigning the employee to a less appealing department or duties
  • Demoting the whistleblower
  • Cutting the pay of the whistleblower
  • Treating the whistleblower in any negative way or allowing others to mistreat him or her

Your employee may also be less likely to assume you are retaliating if you take the complaint seriously, complete a thorough investigation and follow through with appropriate actions against the offender, if necessary. It is also wise to document everything that happens from the first indication that an employee feels harassed or discriminated against, including conversations with the whistleblower and every phase of the investigation.

Having a clear anti-retaliation policy in place is a good start to avoiding any actions an employee may perceive as payback. You will want to be conscious of the timing of any moves or changes you make related to the whistleblower. Any actions you wish to take regarding someone who has reported wrongdoing in your business, even if the report is false, you may want to discuss first with a legal professional to ensure you are not unintentionally retaliating.

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