How Often Are Ethics Hotlines Used in the Workplace?

Deciding to call an ethics hotline can be stressful if you worry about retaliation.

Deciding to call an ethics hotline can be stressful if you worry about retaliation.

Ethics hotlines allow you to anonymously report any instances of misconduct you witness at work. Witnessing a problem is bad enough, but reporting it can be even more stressful. If your report isn’t taken seriously or management doesn’t want the problem known, you could worry about retaliation. That’s why the anonymity of hotlines is important. Unfortunately, even the promise of anonymity doesn’t guarantee that all problems will be reported.

Ethical Misconduct

Ethical misconduct at work can be obvious or almost invisible. Instances of bullying or harassment might be witnessed by many employees, while things like theft or embezzlement might only be discovered during audits. Companies can’t take action against ethical lapses if leaders don’t know what’s happening. Encouraging employees to report issues directly to management or via hotlines is essential to making problems known.

Hotline Use

According to a 2011 study released by the Ethics Resource Center (ERC), approximately 5 percent of misconduct reports are made through ethics hotlines. Most reports are made directly to supervisors or higher levels of management. Reporting issues to management requires that employees trust their managers. For 34 percent of employees, this isn’t the case -- they think their managers are not always ethical.

Who's Reporting What

A 2010 ERC study found that more reports of ethical misconduct are issued by women than men. Managers are more likely to report than non-management personnel, and the likelihood of reporting increases with the level of management. Abusive behavior and theft topped the list of issues reported by women. Men reported most often on poor product quality and theft. Most reports from top management involved abusive behavior and misuse of company resources.

Who's Not Reporting

In 2012, NAVEX Global cited a report issued by the Compliance & Ethics Leadership Council, noting that 15 percent of employees across all industries witness ethical misconduct at work. Only approximately half of those employees report the problems they’ve witnessed -- and some might witness more than one ethical lapse.

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About the Author

A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.

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