You probably would like to think your employees consider you fair. You may also hope those workers will remain loyal. Fairness and loyalty are admirable qualities in a workplace environment. However, each may determine a different reaction from potential whistleblowers and their coworkers.
According to recent studies, employees who perceive their work environment as fair are more likely to be whistleblowers and to support coworkers who report misconduct. Those who value loyalty categorize whistleblowing as a betrayal and may be more prone to retaliate against an employee who reports a co-worker.
Creating a culture of productive criticism
Twenty-two federal laws protect whistleblowers from retaliation, and last year, over 3,000 whistleblowers filed complaints of retaliation with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Retaliation complaints make up almost half of all reports to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but the agency says that most of those reports are of perceived retaliation, not necessarily actual retaliation.
You may tell your employees they can feel free to criticize or report misconduct without fearing retribution, but if the atmosphere of your workplace doesn't facilitate such criticism, your employees may feel reluctant to speak up. Worse, they may perceive retaliation if they do criticize. Some human resources experts suggest the following ways to minimize the potential that whistleblowing will become a negative experience:
- Support internal criticism.
- Encourage opinions on large and small issues within the company.
- Provide confidential ways for employees to report misconduct internally.
- Discourage any kind of retaliation or negative reactions to criticism.
- Make whistleblowing a normal, positive part of the work routine.
By opening channels to internal reporting of wrongdoing and potential misconduct, you may reduce the need for your employees to report the issues to an external entity.
Strong defense against accusations
Even if you believe you have established an open, fair workplace, you may still end up in a situation where an employee accuses you of retaliation for criticizing or reporting some misconduct. With the many laws protecting employees, it may only take a perception of retaliation for the courts to come down hard on you and your company.
Having legal counsel at the first sign of trouble is often the best way to deal with accusations of retaliation or unfair treatment. Contacting an attorney as soon as you are aware that an employee is claiming mistreatment may allow that lawyer to intervene quickly and prevent the situation from escalating into a lawsuit. If the employee insists on litigation, you will have a legal advocate who can defend your company and your good name.