Whistleblower Retaliations Growing

Whistleblower Retaliations Growing

Two recent studies show that retaliation against whistleblowers in the workplace is growing – and companies are falling short in their responsiveness to employees.

The studies in question are a supplement to the 2011 National Business Ethics Survey (“NBES”) by the Ethics Resource Center and “Retaliation in the Workplace” by Navex Global (“Navex”), an ethics and compliance consulting firm. Here are some key findings:

  • More than 22 percent of employees who reported workplace misconduct in 2011 experienced some form of retaliation. Compare this to just 12 percent in 2007 and 15 percent in 2009. (NBES)
  • Ethics and compliance professionals surveyed have seen an increase in retaliation claims in the last year. (Navex)
  • Retaliation rates against employees increased 83 percent over the last five years. (NBES)
  • Despite the rise in workplace retaliation, only 15 percent of surveyed ethics and compliance professionals say that their organizations inform employees about retaliation trends and suspected misconduct. (Navex)
  • Close to half of employees surveyed observe misconduct each year. While the majority of employees who observe misconduct do report it (around 65 percent), one in five of those who report misconduct experience retaliation. (NBES)

The issue of retaliation is becoming a large one for both workers and management. Retaliation is defined as a negative job action taken against an employee for exercising a right protected by law that would deter a reasonable employee from exercising that right again in the future. This can include demotion, denial of training, assignment of worse work schedules, poor performance evaluation, and even termination. Supervisors and managers are often in a position where they have the opportunity to take negative job action against an employee. Most retaliation is attributable to the employer for that reason. The only exception would be retaliation from coworkers – the employer would have to clearly demonstrate that it took actions to prevent retaliation in the workplace.

How can businesses prevent retaliation and strengthen ethics and compliance programs to increase trust between workers and management? It isn’t easy.

The Navex study suggested that employers focus on the rules against retaliation and emphasize the importance of reporting incidents to employees. Legislation like the Sarbanes-Oxley and the Dodd-Frank prohibit companies from retaliating against their employees. Legal claims for retaliation can be brought against employers by employees.

A majority (75 percent) of respondents to the Navex survey believe that the best way to prevent retaliation is through training and awareness programs for companies. However, half of the respondents said that their companies already do have annual training for both management and employees. This indicates that training should extend beyond simple how to lessons into encouraging employees to speak up and report wrongdoing.

Another issue is a lack of transparency when it comes to resolving concerns. Employees who come forward about wrongdoing sometimes hear nothing about what happened. Did their speaking up make a difference? Releasing specific case details can be tricky when confidentiality is involved, but companies could use aggregated data to point out trends to the entire employee population – and show the final outcomes of investigations without going into detail.

The Navex study stressed the importance of some form of feedback to employees. It can demonstrate a company’s commitment to best practices and lack of retaliation – and make employees feel more confident about reporting than any annual training program or break room poster.

To learn more about whistleblowing and for a free confidential consultation, contact Eric Young at Young Law Group today at (800) 590-4116 or email to eyoung@young-lawgroup.com.