In 2020, corporate ethics hotlines saw a significant decrease in reports from employees regarding a wide range of issues, but most notably tips about potential fraud and bribery. Despite reports involving COVID-19 health and safety concerns increasing by 47% throughout 2020, these hotlines saw a 7.1% decrease in total reports from the previous year.
The decrease could be attributed to recent pandemic-related layoffs as well as business closures, meaning that with a smaller workforce, fewer reports will be filed. It’s also possible that employees could be less inclined to file a report for fear of losing their job during this period of economic struggle.
Despite the decrease in reports received by hotlines, data suggests that employees were more likely to take complaints directly to government agencies. The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) received an 11.5% increase in complaints in 2020. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s whistleblower program received the highest number of tips since the program began in 2011. This increase is believed to be due to the workforce shifting to a work-from-home environment.
Working from home can cause an employee to feel more disconnected from their company and struggle to file a complaint internally. Whistleblowers may also be drawn to government agencies due to financial incentives during this economically troubling time.
As working remotely continues to become a more dominant practice for companies and employees, it will be important for employers to find innovative ways to maintain employee participation in company compliance culture, mission, and values.
Ethics and compliance have become clear focal points for organizational success. Institutions need clearly defined values, ethics, and a commitment to compliance requirements that demonstrate their integrity to all relevant stakeholders and regulators—not simply viewing compliance as a checkbox exercise in avoiding penalties.
This requires a holistic strategy for compliance and ethics supported by all layers of the business. Only then can organizations establish the underlying processes, policies, procedures, and technology needed to effectively monitor and manage compliance enterprise-wide.