Some changes caused by the pandemic were predictable, but others have been unforeseen. Many were likely surprised in 2020 when there was a 35% increase in tips sent to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). These tips, complaints, and referrals led to hundreds of investigations, many tied to COVID-19 issues but others that were not.
Why did it happen?
Whistleblowers have their own reasons; however, the WSJ pointed out that many working from the privacy of their homes did not need to worry about managers or colleagues looking over their shoulder or confronting them face-to-face. There may also have been fewer concerns over retaliation since office culture was non-existent during the shutdown. Whistleblowers may even have been less concerned about getting caught if they had been laid off or furloughed.
During challenging economic times, there may be more to report as workers strive to meet goals. The unprecedented pandemic brought greater concern about the increased likelihood for bribery, corruption in the healthcare industry, and other fraudulent behavior.
Another reason for the increase in tips may have been the prospect of financial gain—tipsters can receive awards in payment for helpful information they provide investigators. The standard is 10% to 30% of the penalties issued against wrongdoers by the SEC or other government regulators.
Companies can respond.
Many employees have returned to their workplaces; however, it is now much more common for companies to adopt hybrid arrangements. Moreover, there are now more permanent remote employees than ever before. Managers and HR staff can address this shift by adapting their approach to handling employees who file complaints or tips. Proactive changes include:
- Maintain adequate staffing to handle complaints in a timely fashion regardless of whether the whistleblower is in-house or remote
- Follow up to ensure that employees feel that their concerns are adequately addressed
- Review codes of employee conduct to address behaviors of remote workers
- Review business practices to ensure that remote employee work conditions are compliant with all labor laws and employment regulations
Whether complaints are made by in-house or remote workers, credible claims should be investigated promptly in compliance with company policies.
Employers should consult an attorney if they have any questions about how to respond to a whistleblower complaint, and any other employment law questions.