An HR Hotline - Why Every Business Needs One
Written by CMG News Contributor, Mindy Flanigan
What is an anonymous HR Hotline?
Why does my small business need it?
As a small business owner or leader within, have you ever thought, “I wish I would have known that” or “if I knew then what I know now?” How about, “why didn’t they say something?”
The HR Hotline has historically been or can also be called an Ethics Hotline, Whistleblower Hotline and/or Complaint Hotline, where employees can report misconduct, violations, unethical behavior, violence and any other complaints within the workplace. The HR Hotline allows employees the choice to report their concerns anonymously to a third-party HR representative who researches and/or investigates the situation and notifies the business of the issue(s). It is a safety net.
Are you prepared to admit that it is near impossible to always get it right? That it is an ongoing challenge to stay on top of ever-changing labor laws that require policy changes. That it is near impossible to know what your employees, not you, perceive to be reasonable and safe working conditions.
If you admit these challenges then you might also be looking for solutions. As a small business owner, if you want your culture to be one of fairness and one that is fully committed to providing an unbiased and objective safe space to voice concerns, that is what an HR Hotline can deliver. In fact, an effective and compliant Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination policy should have this as an option, in my opinion.
You might be saying “our leaders are top notch and all employees know to go to them when there is a problem” and you might be right. But are you 100% sure? What about that newer introverted employee who isn’t feeling confident enough to go to their leader in regards to a policy violation or a safety concern. Ask yourself: “Do I want to provide them with every option to say something and feel supported, or choose to stay quiet?”
Even if you have hired the right people who are committed to the mission, they are still looking to feel safe. What can you do to further enhance that feeling of safety and keep everyone working together to keep improving? Even the introverts? Isn’t it better to know and act, rather than secretly hoping no one says anything?
Advantages of an HR Hotline:
Awareness: By having an HR Hotline, employers are made aware of issues within the workplace immediately, which allows the company to promptly address the situation before it escalates into a bigger issue and/or potential lawsuit.
Confidentiality: Employees are able to confidentially communicate with a third-party HR representative rather than management, which reduces the risk of retaliation from the company and protects an employee from “Whistleblower” violations.
Trust: The presence of the HR Hotline demonstrates to employees that the company wants to be made aware of employee concerns and is willing to take the necessary steps to resolve the issue.
Fact Finding/Unbiased Recommendations: The third-party HR representative is impartial to the situation and gathers factual information related to the complaint, resulting in an unbiased recommendation for resolution.
Consistency: The third-party HR representative handles the intake of the call and/or following up from a recorded message, interviews and/or investigates the situation and takes thorough documentation notes by following a standard process, which ensures consistency.
24/7 Access: Employees are able to access the hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If the employee calls after hours, he/she can leave a message on a recorded line detailing their complaint/concerns.
Employer Protection: All employee complaints are fully documented through the HR hotline; therefore, employers are able to provide proof that a complaint was received and the company promptly responded and resolved and/or attempted to resolve the issue.
What is “Whistleblower Protection?”
A whistleblower is defined as a person (employee) who discloses to the company and/or proper authority, any acts of misconduct, employment law or policy violation, harassment, discrimination, etc., within the workplace in which the employee believes to be illegal and/or deceitful in nature.
Whistleblowers protection, under federal and/or state law, prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who discloses a complaint or concern. Retaliation includes adverse employment action, such as termination of employment, pay decreases, change in job responsibilities and/or assignments, intimidation or harassment, etc. The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 applies to public and government employees; however, many states have enacted Whistleblower protection laws that apply to all state, public, and private employers.
Business owners are encouraged to seek guidance and understanding from an HR Professional or Labor Law Attorney regarding federal and/or state Whistleblower Protection laws that may apply to their employees to ensure compliance under the law(s). Business owners are also encouraged to establish a company Whistleblower and Retaliation Policy, which directs employees to the HR Hotline to report any complaints and/or concerns.
To summarize, business owners will find great value in adopting and implementing an HR Hotline for employees to report complaints and concerns. Employers are seeing the many benefits of having a hotline available to employees. Although there may be an expense to implementing a hotline, the cost benefit of reducing exposure and liability greatly outweighs the expense of the hotline.
Employers are liable for workplace misconduct and violations. “I didn’t know” is not a defense. During a lawsuit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) places the burden of proof on the employer to prove it responded to and promptly corrected the complaint/concern even if the issue continued beyond the control of the employer. By having an HR Hotline, the employer can demonstrate the path of the complaint and what steps were taken to resolve the compliant. In essence the employer now has the needed proof for their defense.
In addition, if reporting concerns or complaints to members of leadership fails or breaks down, the Hotline helps eliminate the risk of a surprise. The “surprise” complaining employee can no longer state they had “nowhere to go” or “no one to talk to”. That claim might be legitimate if the complaining employee proves they did not know where to turn or that leadership has historically turned a blind eye or was deemed unapproachable. But a documented, publicly known hotline available to all employees, for all concerns, remedies that risk.
It’s Time, Take Action
If you're sold on why an HR Hotline is a great next step for business, the next question is "How do I implement one?" You can look internally, if you feel that your internal HR team is well positioned to assume the role of objective safe place. Or, you can look externally to a vendor or partner, such as an HR Consultant with a toll-free line made available to your employees. Whatever you choose, have a plan to roll it out. Write the hotline use into policy, tell your employees why you have taken this step and encourage them to use it. They will thank you for it. And when employees feel safe and grateful, they tend to be loyal, high performers.
For advice on this matter or to solve any other HR challenge or concern your small business is facing, be sure to contact us through our website at www.inspiringhr.com.
This article does not constitute legal advice and there are subtle variations in employment law as it pertains to this topic, depending on where your business operates. It is strongly suggested that you seek consultation or legal counsel before making decisions about policies.
Mindy Flanigan has 25+ years of experience as a Human Resource Management Professional. She is the Founder and CIO (Chief Inspiration Officer) of Inspiring HR, LLC, as well as PHR certified since 2002 and SHRM certified since 2015. To contact Mindy directly, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.