Protecting Whistleblowers During Workplace Investigations

Vince Scopelliti - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Feedback from employees is crucial to employers wanting to keep their finger on the pulse of a business. It is essential for management to be aware of risky behaviours occurring within a workplace, such as bullying, circumstances giving rise to easily preventable worker's compensation claims, failure to comply with regulations, corruption, or even criminal activities such as embezzlement, theft or fraud. In many circumstances, this information will only become available through the cooperation of whistleblowers. 

In order to ensure that accurate information is conveyed, it is essential for businesses to make sure that potential whistleblowers are protected from persecution, ridicule or reprisals during the investigation. But how does this occur in practice?

WHAT IS A WHISTLEBLOWER?

A whistleblower is somebody who reports internal wrongdoing within an organisation, either to a senior member of the organisation or to an external authority, such as the police or the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC). 

Generally speaking, protection is afforded to those who are current employees, officers or even contractors who are engaged in providing goods or services to an organisation. 

Information which is provided to an employer by a whistleblower is considered a 'protected disclosure', which must remain confidential and which can only be passed on if specifically authorised by law or by the whistleblower. 

how are whistleblowers protected?

There are various sets of state-based legislation which provide different types of protection for whistleblowers operating in the public sector. However only in South Australia are those working in the private sector afforded similar protections. In SA, the Whistleblowers Protection Act steps in to protect people who provide information:
  • Which the genuinely believe is true.
  • Which can be considered to be in the 'public interest'.
  • Which is provided to an appropriate authority. 
Nationally, the Australian Standard AS 8004-2003 sets requirements for the implementation of whistleblowing schemes in private enterprises. Under these requirements, the identity of the whistleblower must not be disclosed unless specifically authorised by law, and the information provided must also be kept confidential. 

At federal level, the Commonwealth Corporations Act 2001 also provides specific protections for whistleblowers, which prohibits any action, including personal or professional retaliation, from being taken against a person who has disclosed wrongdoing. In the event that any such retribution occurs, the Act provides a civil right for whistleblowers to sue reinstatement of employment. 

Alternatively, if a whistleblower suffers any other loss as a result of their disclosure, they can claim compensation for damages suffered directly from the alleged wrongdoer. 

The Act stipulates that whistleblowers cannot be subjected to criminal prosecution or civil litigation because of their involvement in providing protected information.    

However in order to fall within the protections set out in Paragraph 1317AA of the Act, it is necessary for:
  • The whistleblower to provide their name.
  • There to be reasonable grounds to suspect a breach of the Act and the report is to be made in good faith.
  • The whistleblower to be a current employee or director (of course, this is problematic in circumstances where the person was recently sacked or otherwise resigned from their employment)
In June 2017, the federal government announced its intention to introduce legislation which updates and improves on whistleblower protections, including potentially incentivising whistleblowers with financial rewards for providing information which has resulted in successful prosecutions.   

HOW YOUR ORGANISATION CAN ASSIST WHISTLEBLOWERS

Although Australia has some legal provisions in place to ensure that whistleblowers are protected from reprisal or other involvement in litigation, there is still much more that can be done to encourage the reporting of wrongdoing observed within a company. 

If you are concerned that your workplace may not provide sufficient incentive to employees to report wrongdoing, or provides insufficient support to those who do reveal sensitive information, sign up to WISE Workplace's 24/7 whistleblower program, Grapevine. The program offers independent monitoring of complaints and assessments of appropriate methods of dealing with complaints, as well as advice on how best to advise your employees that they are entitled to whistleblower protections. 

Ensure that your organisation is strengthened internally by implementing a strong whistleblower policy to guarantee that all staff feel comfortable providing information relating to misconduct or inappropriate behaviour. 

Is Your Complaints Procedure Effective?

Vince Scopelliti - Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Risk management is an important aspect of running a successful business: Whether this takes the form of ensuring compliance with corporate governance programs, reducing instances of workplace fraud or financial misconduct, or eliminating bullying or other forms of harassment. 

Having a strong and coherent whistleblower program in place can help protect your organisation's interests in all of these situations. 

An ineffective complaints system could in fact be preventing your employees from raising any complaints. 

So what are the hallmarks of an effective whistleblower program?

Provide confidentiality and support

An effective complaints system should enable your business to identify hotspots, respond to critical incidents and communicate confidentially with reporters. It should also provide employees with a safe and secure environment to report misconduct, enable insightful management and the ability to bring about real cultural change, and reduce corporate risk. 

Perhaps the most crucial component of a successful complaints system is that complainants are guaranteed confidentiality and employer support throughout the whole process. This is particularly important as those who are considering blowing the whistle on co-workers or supervisors may be concerned about reprisals or the potential impact on their employment. 

This is especially likely to be the case in circumstances where the reported conduct involves sexual harassment, workplace bullying or criminal behaviour, such as fraud or theft. Employees considering making a complaint should be offered the opportunity to make anonymous complaints to reduce the fear of retaliation. 

The following statistic are particularly insightful: 

  • A third  of all reports made through whistleblower programs relate to bullying and harassment
  • 67% of people experiencing bullying or harassment do not report it
  • 42% do not report it for fear of negative consequences
  • 49% of misconduct is reported by employees. 

ESTABLISH CLEAR PROCEDURES AND GUIDELINES

It is crucial that reporting systems in your workplace are clearly identified and communicated to all staff. This includes making it clear to all employees how a complaint should be made (including an anonymous complaint), to whom, and what the follow-up process will be once a complaint has been lodged. 

This information should be readily available and easily accessible. 

DON'T MAKE EMPTY PROMISES

Once a whistleblower program is in place in your business, it is important for those utilising the service to feel that their complaints are being taken seriously and will be dealt with and responded to in an appropriate fashion.  

Privacy concerns and operational strategies may mean that complainants are not privy to all aspects of any ultimate disciplinary or punitive processes imposed on those against whom complaints are sustained. It is nonetheless important to confirm with the complainant that it has been duly and independently investigated, and that it has been resolved to the business' satisfaction.

CRACK DOWN ON REPRISALS

It is equally important for your organisation to have a strong and transparent policy to deal with reprisals or victimisation of whistleblowers. In some circumstances, even if confidentially is offered, only a little bit of logic may be required to deduce who made a complaint against another staff member. This maybe particularly relevant if your business is small or if the circumstances surrounding an allegation involve only a few people with detailed knowledge of the facts. 

If anyone involved seeks to retaliate either physically, verbally or by affecting the whistleblower's employment, it is crucial for your organisation to demonstrate a swift and clear zero-tolerance response.  

IMPLEMENTING A PROGRAM CAN BE CHALLENGING

Ensuring easy communication and the ability for staff to raise complaints where necessary, benefits all employees by improving an organisation's ability to deal with risks and increasing employee satisfaction. 

However, implementing an effective whistleblower program can be difficult, particularly in a smaller business with limited resources. It can also be a complicated task to provide a program that responds quickly and is impartial. 

At WISE Workplace, we offer an independent whistleblower hotline program that is ready to take complaints 24/7, provide assessments on the urgency of complaints, and offer expert advice on the dealing with complaints. Contact us to find out more.   

When the Line Blurs: Restrictive Practices vs Assault

- Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It is well-known that certain industries, particularly those involving disability or aged care services, have a higher than average level of client-facing risk. This is in part because consumers of these services generally have higher levels of physical needs, and may also have difficulties expressing themselves clearly or consistently.  

As a result of these unique care requirements, occasionally situations may arise where restrictive practices are necessary either for the client's own safety or to protect another person. 

However, employers and care workers must ensure that their actions do not exceed reasonable restrictive practices and slip into behaviours or acts, which could be considered assault.   

WHAT ARE RESTRICTIVE PRACTICES?

According to the Australian Law Reform Commission, the definition of 'restrictive practices' are actions which effectively restrict the rights or freedom of movement of a person with a disability.

This could include physical restraint (such as holding somebody down), mechanical restraint (for example, with the use of a device intendend to restrict, prevent or subdue movement), chemical restraint (using sedative drugs), or social restraint (verbal interactions or threats of sanctions). 

Restrictive practices are intended to used in situations where a person is demonstrating concerning, or potentially threatening behaviours. In the disability services context, this may involve people with significant intellectual or psychological impairments, but no or limited physical impairments, meaning that threats of violence could be credible and have significant effects.

Although restrictive practices are currently legal in Australia, according to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) factsheet, they do not currently constitute 'best practice' for disability support.

KEY CONCERNS WITH RESTRICTIVE PRACTICES

As with any situation where the personal liberty of people is affected, the use of restrictive practices can blur into the use of inappropriate levels of force and potentially even expose the disability worker to accusations of assault. 

While the greatest concern with restrictive practices would be the possibility of disabled persons being intentionally abused, it is very easy for the line between restrictive practices to be unintentionally blurred. 

Although assault is defined slightly differently in each Australian state and territory under criminal law legislation, broadly, the offence involves circumstances where intentional and unwanted physical force or contact is used against another person. It can also include verbal behaviours, which are considered threatening. 

While the line between the use of restrictive practices and assault may not be immediately clear, conduct is unlikely to be considered to be an assault if it can be demonstrated that the actions taken, even if they involved the use of physical force, were necessary to avoid violence or any risk of harm.

    WHAT IF AN ALLEGATION OF ASSAULT DOES ARISE?

    The provision of disability services is a challenging industry at the best of times. It's important to ensure that your team is using restrictive practices appropriately and in the right circumstances to avoid any allegations of assault. 

    Any employers who are advised of accusations of assault must undertake a full workplace investigation in order to fulfil their dual obligations to their employees and to their clients. 

    At WISE Workplace, we have experience in the disability and aged care sectors, and our team can assist in all aspects of workplace investigations.   

    Bullying: I've Been Talking to HR but Nothing's Happening

    - Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    If you have been the victim of bullying, the HR department in your organisation is generally the first port of call for raising your concerns. 

    It can be mentally or emotionally challenging to make a complaint to HR. You may feel exposed or vulnerable because you are concerned that your complaint may not be believed, or that the person about whom you have made a complaint has been told that you have "dobbed" on them.

    Depending on the nature of your complaint, or the relationship of the HR personnel with the person or people about whom the complaint has been made, you may have concerns that a workplace investigation will not be conducted thoroughly or your grievance not taken seriously. In any event, your working life can become very uncertain after you have made a complaint to HR. 

    Taking a company issue to the HR team can also be a lengthy process, and it may feel like nothing is happening as time ticks by. But it's important to remember that much of the HR investigation will be taking place without you being directly aware of it. 

    Here is a brief look at how the process works.

    THE FIRST STEP

    After you have aired your grievance, it's important to try and remain focused and perform your job to the best of your ability. If you feel you are unable to do so, it may be best to take a few days off work on sick leave until you feel stronger, and better able to approach your tasks or face your co-workers.    

    THE COMPLAINT PROCESS 

    There are certain steps which a diligent HR team must follow once a complaint has been brought to their attention. Initially, the complaint must be assessed. 

    Next, the HR department will meet with relevant senior staff, who must make a decision as to what the appropriate follow-up actions will be.

    Depending on the severity of the alleged behaviour, this may involve HR having a quiet word to the other person or the initiation of formal disciplinary proceedings. The latter is more likely to be the case if the person being complained about is already being performance-managed in relation to prior issues. 

    Be aware that it may well take HR a week or even longer to finalise the preliminary investigation process, and make and communicate a decision on the best way forward. 

    Privacy obligations to the other employees involved may also mean that you are not entitled to know the full details of what further action will be taken.

    WHAT CAN HR TELL YOU?

    At a minimum, HR is required to advise you of: 

    • The fact that it has received your complaint, is taking it seriously and is conducting appropriate levels of investigation. 
    • What Employee Assistance Programs are available. 
    • Who the liaison person for these programs is (if your organisation has one) and how to contact them. 

    WHAT IF THERE IS A FORMAL WORKPLACE INVESTIGATION? 

    For serious complaints, your company may engage the services of a third party workplace investigator. 

    If this occurs, then you are entitled to: 

    • Be one of the first people interviewed if a detailed investigation is commenced. 
    • Receive a copy of your interview transcript or detailed statement, which you should sign if you agree that it is an accurate record of what you told HR

    If your complaint is sufficiently serious, then the respondent facing your allegations will be advised of the exact complaints against them. Although they are also likely to be interviewed, you are not entitled to a copy of their transcript or statement. If you are concerned about any bias, however, be aware that their interview will be recorded.

    Once these steps have been finalised, the investigator will draft a report for the review and consideration of the HR department. That report (hopefully completed within a timeframe of less than three weeks) will then be provided to the relevant decision-makers within your organisation for a final determination. 

    You will generally be advised that the investigation has been completed, what the findings are, and of any further action steps as they concern you. But in most cases, you will not be specifically advised of any punishment to be meted out to the respondent. 

    BE PREPARED FOR WORKPLACE CHANGES

    If your complaint is serious, you may be asked to move or transfer offices or departments. This is not a punishment, but is designed to ensure that your wellbeing is protected, generally by reducing the likelihood of any contact occurring between you and the respondent. 

    Try not to respond by being offended or otherwise feeling indignant. All businesses, regardless of their size, have legal obligations to all employees. Your employer cannot simply fire workers who have issues with other employees, and other considerations may mean that the respondent cannot be moved. Bear in mind that your organisation is simply trying to find the best outcome for all concerned. 

    If you are nervous about making a complaint or otherwise wish to obtain guidance on how whistleblowers should be dealt with, contact WISE Workplace today for detailed assistance with all aspects of the workplace investigation process.  

    6 Pillars of an Effective Fraud Prevention Program

    - Wednesday, November 09, 2016



    Fraud is enormously detrimental to Australian organisations, with KPMG putting the average cost of each case in 2015 at $1.4 million. 

    There can be a number of reasons why an employee commits fraud, such as personal financial pressures, personality traits, rationalisation, and opportunity. Since it’s fairly impossible to control other people’s personalities, thoughts and problems, the best thing you can do to fight fraud is to reduce the opportunity for it to happen in your organisation in the first place. 

    According to research by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), where anti-fraud controls are in place, detection of fraud occurs up to 50% quicker, and losses are reduced by 14% to 54%. 

    So let’s take a look at six ways to prevent workplace fraud.
    1. Create a positive workplace culture
    In a positive and ethical culture, fraud will have little place to sprout and grow. Some of the elements to consider include:
    • Transparency, open communication and an emphasis on good relationships.
    • Clarity around workplace structure and job responsibilities. 
    • Regular training and development for staff. 
    • Zero tolerance for fraud and dishonesty.
    • A Code of conduct that everyone signs. 
    • Clear policies and procedures manuals. 
    • Appropriately rewarding employees and treating them fairly. 
    2. Workplace security
    Premises and data security are always important to reduce crime such as burglary, vandalism and identity theft. Security procedures such as restriction of access to data and resources also helps to reduce fraud risk – such as locking of cupboards, filing cabinets and safes, and using IT controls such as logins and passwords. 
    3. Separation of duties and strong controls
    Business transactions, especially financial ones, should be split up into tasks that are carried out by different people. For instance, it shouldn’t be left up to one employee only to receive, count and record cash and take it to the bank, without any checks and balances. As well as that, all cheque and online payments should require at least two authorisers or signatures. 
    4. Good recruitment practices
    It can be so easy to employ a person based on a resume, an interview and a reference letter, without doing any real background checks. Past employment and police checks and contacting referees can all contribute towards getting a better picture of potential employees.   
    5. Monitoring and surveillance
    According to the ACFE, losses were lower in cases where fraud was detected through surveillance, monitoring and account reconciliations than through accidental discovery. 
    Other examples of good surveillance include regular internal audits and annual independent external audits, and strong staff supervision that involves checking for errors and approving transactions. 
    6. Fraud awareness training and reporting
    Many business owners, managers and employees may not be very aware of fraud risk. Training allows for learning about fraud and its impacts, how to prevent and detect it, and where to report it. 

    The longer fraud is allowed to go on, the greater the losses to the organisation. It’s important to develop strategies for reporting suspected fraud, such as anonymous hotlines. The ACFE states that organisations with reporting hotlines were “much more likely” to detect fraud than those without. 

    At Wise, we understand the need for organisations to have robust fraud prevention strategies in place, and we offer a whistleblower hotline service to help enable the reporting of suspected fraud. Get in touch if you’d like to know more. 


    What are Some of the Common Causes of Workplace Fraud?

    - Wednesday, November 02, 2016



    When it comes to workplace fraud, it can be tempting to boil down the cause into simplistic statements, such as saying the fraudster was just “greedy and dishonest.” 

    But of course things are generally not quite that simple, and just as plane crashes usually require at least two or three things to go wrong, in most cases of fraud, there needs to be a number of factors involved for it to occur. 
    It’s widely considered that there are three main factors for fraud – motivation, opportunity, and lack of surveillance. 
    1. Common motivation factors
    There are a number of possible motivations for committing fraud. These include:
    • Financial pressures: A person might commit fraud due to financial difficulties. This can be a result of unfortunate circumstances, such as in the case of a relationship breakdown, or more strongly self-inflicted, from living a lavish lifestyle beyond their means or getting into serious gambling debt. 
    • Peer pressure: A person might be pressured to collaborate in a fraud at work, and go along with it to be accepted in the ‘in group’ or to avoid harassment. 
    • Personality traits: According to the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), certain personality types may be more inclined towards committing fraud – such as opportunists, narcissists, or people who like to lord it over or manipulate other people, and who enjoy the challenge of beating the system and fooling others. 
    • Disgruntlement: In some cases, resentment can be involved – such as where an employee feels overlooked for a promotion or pay increase they feel they deserved, or where they feel victimised or treated unfairly (whether real or imagined). 
    Rationalisation can also play a part, with a perpetrator justifying their actions to alleviate guilt. This might include thinking “I deserve it” or “it’s not hurting anyone” or “the company can afford it and won’t even notice the loss.” 
    2. Opportunity
    Of course fraud can’t happen if the opportunity to commit it isn’t there! Examples might include where a worker is put in charge of company assets such as cash or supplies, or where they are given a company credit card to use without rigorous oversight. The opportunity for fraud might come along in small chunks – where the perpetrator steals cash just a bit at a time to avoid detection, or in one big hit. In some instances, the fraudster may not have set out to commit crime, but becomes tempted when the opportunity pops up. 
    3. Lack of surveillance
    Lax internal controls increase the opportunity for fraud to be committed. For instance, where one person is given authority to process and make payments without a second authoriser and so on. 

    This is where clear separation of duties is required, as well as strong internal controls, and other safeguards such as regular internal and external audits. 
    Detecting fraud
    Since fraud is all about secrecy and deception, it is not always easy to uncover. Surprise audits, anonymous hotlines, and continual monitoring can help in detecting fraud. At Wise, we offer a whistleblower hotline service that can help organisations to detect fraud. Get in contact with us for more details. 


    3 Reasons Why People Fail to Report Misconduct at Work

    - Monday, October 24, 2016


    Sometimes when we investigate issues of misconduct and/or corruption in workplaces, we find ourselves asking – why didn’t anybody notice this earlier? Yet more often than not the answer to this question will be that people at least partially knew, but for a number of reasons they felt unable to act.

    Those reasons tend to fall into one of three main groups, the ‘3P threats’:
    Position in the organisation.
    Prevalence of the misconduct. 
    Processes for reporting (or the lack thereof).

    By assisting staff to overcome these difficulties, it is possible for employers to create an organisation that builds resilience against misconduct. 

    We explore the range of threats and opportunities surrounding whistleblowing in the workplace.
    1. Position in the organisation: “Don’t you value your job?”
    It is no secret that for most workers, their job is a means to an end. By using their skills, they are able to pay for food, clothes, mortgage, education and recreation for them and their loved ones. When an ethical fork in the road occurs, such as witnessing misconduct at work, the average worker is faced with the possibility of their position in the organisation coming under threat, should they rock the boat and report the misconduct. Where the misconduct is occurring at a level higher in the organisation, the dilemma is even more pronounced for the worker. Power and position can be strong barriers to action against misconduct.

    If effective, safe and accessible means of dealing with misconduct are not available to the employee, then they might well ignore the behaviour. Recriminations, undermining or enabling of dismissal are all real fears for the worker caught in this position.
    2. Prevalence of misconduct: “That’s just the way it’s done”
    For both new and seasoned workers alike, misconduct can be so subtle and so pervasive that they can simply miss the signs that something is wrong. For workers who have been around for some time, a type of misconduct-creep can occur where regulatory corners are gradually cut, slightly dubious deals are done and unusual ‘tweaks’ to the accounts begin to occur – just as examples.

    Just like the fable of the slow-boiled frog, employees don’t notice that anything is wrong. The story goes that if you put a frog in cold water and gradually raise the heat, it will slowly pass away – not knowing anything is amiss. Conversely, if you throw a live frog into a pot of boiling water, it will leap right out with an outraged croak! 

    The moral is, employees who are slowly and increasingly exposed to workplace misconduct might simply see this as the status quo – nothing to be concerned about. However, it can sometimes be the newer employee, or somebody moving sections, that jumps out of the ‘boiling pot’ of misconduct – they notice that things are not at all okay in this workplace!

    This prevalence and pervasiveness of workplace misconduct can lead to the types of corrupt falls-from-grace that we see all too often in corporate culture.
    3. Processes for reporting: “Who should I tell?”
    If we take both of these difficulties – the threat to an employee’s job and the insidious subtlety of misconduct – then add a hidden or non-existent process for reporting misconduct, then the likelihood of misconduct being effectively dealt with in the workplace might well reduce to zero.

    A clear, transparent and preferably anonymous process through which employees can take their concerns is vital. They should not need to wade through HR documentation hoping to find the right person or phone number. At induction, an ethical culture should be championed and workers trained on signs of early potential misconduct. The best and most genuine processes will also encourage employees to approach appropriate external experts in situations where they believe that there is nobody internally with whom they can speak openly.

    At Wise, we provide a whistleblower hotline service that enables employees at all levels of an organisation to speak freely and openly with our experts about suspected misconduct in the workplace. 

    With the well-reported damage that can be done to workplaces via misconduct and corruption, it benefits everybody in the long run if the ‘3P threats’ leading to misconduct can be dealt with professionally, quickly and effectively.

    Speak with a professional confidentially today if you are concerned about misconduct in your workplace here on the Whistleblower Hotline.


    The Depressed Worker: Lesser-Known Aspects of Mental Illness

    - Monday, October 17, 2016



    We understand that for busy employers, time and energy are definitely limited resources. Regularly spread thin by the demands of customers, suppliers and employees, it can certainly be difficult to notice the finer goings-on of the everyday workplace. 

    For this reason, human resource issues such as depression and other mental illnesses in the workplace can sometimes be difficult to spot. Add to this the clichés that attach to how depression ‘looks’ and employers could find themselves left with a staff problem that snowballs over time. After dispelling some of the myths about employee depression, we examine some lesser-known features of this and other challenging illnesses

    ‘Always sad’ and other misconceptions of depression

    One of the key problems with the word ‘depression’ is that it has been co-opted into describing a range of non-medical human experiences. From bored to grieving to heart-broken, people often describe themselves and others as being “so depressed!” 

    This is not to say that being sad, crying or appearing forlorn are not cause for concern to an employer. And if the worker who is ‘always sad’ begins to show other signs of depression – or appears unable to shake the melancholy - then employers might do well to privately and sensitively check in with the worker. 
    But generally - it’s just not a simple matter of ‘sadness’.
    Lesser-known aspects of depression
    One group of depressive symptoms reflects the deeply physiological nature of this unforgiving illness. Unlike emotions, these symptoms are tied to the way the clinically-depressed brain begins to alter physical and mental functioning. Outward signs can include a disturbed appetite, concentration difficulties, fatigue, loss of interest in activities, a slowing or speeding of physical movement and/or sleep disturbance. Thus, a clinically depressed worker might exhibit any number of uncharacteristic behaviours. Window-gazing, forgetting crucial meetings or technical details, dozing at lunch, talking faster and louder than usual and/ or rapidly losing weight in a short period of time are just some of the many and varied manifestations of true depression.
    What is uncharacteristic?
    It is well-known that employers need to look out for persisting illness across at least two weeks to be sure that depression is a likely reality for the worker in question. But how many of us simply look for typical sadness? As we can already see, the physiological changes wrought by the illness are such that employers might well be missing key information about their workforce. One key observation is unusual change. 

    When your usually ‘gun’ salesperson continuously forgets to take crucial projections with them or can’t find the words to explain to customers the benefits of a core product – then depression’s feature of lost concentration might be an insidious cause. If your usual early bird is not only unable to catch the worm, but in fact has spent weeks slumping into their chair at 10am each morning, then physiological sleep disturbance and fatigue might be flowing from a typical clinical depression.
    Other unforgiving illnesses
    There is so much crucial information to get our heads around when it comes to supporting workers with mental illness. Another huge thief of health and productivity in Australia is clinical anxiety. This too comes with its fair share of clichés around simply being ‘worried’ or ‘nervous’. Once more, deeper physiological factors can be at play with anxiety than might first meet the eyes. Fast speech, irritability, bolting from rooms and failing to meet deadlines are just some of the troubling symptoms facing those with one of the clinical anxiety disorders.
    Knowledge is power
    Becoming a workplace knowledge-base and champion of mental health is a proven way for employers to engage and retain loyal workers. And by understanding that troubling behaviours are stemming from a diagnosable illness, employers are much less likely to blame laziness or selfishness for a worker’s underperformance. 

    Without this crucial knowledge, the danger of harassment or discrimination claims being made by the mentally ill worker can loom on the horizon. Before things escalate, contact a professional in these areas to help you investigate the mental health ‘climate’ of your workplace.

    In getting to know the more subtle and damaging aspects of depression, anxiety and other employee illnesses, employers can identify and help their workers before a small health challenge grows into a complex workplace difficulty.

    You can also speak with a professional confidentially on the new Whistleblower Hotline service.


    Can Workplace Corruption be Stopped?

    - Tuesday, October 11, 2016


    By Andrew Hedges

    Can workplace corruption be halted?
    Is there a way to stop workplace corruption from mushrooming or thriving? It obviously has to trickle from the top down, so managers and supervisors need to be made aware of their role in changing the culture. 

    If there is a real desire to tackle workplace corruption, the culture of silence needs to be openly addressed, broken and re-set – and instead management needs to encourage and reward individuals who say something when it needs to be said. 

    This is especially relevant in relation to singling out unhealthy practices which would widely be regarded as inappropriate in workplace cultures where open, honest, upfront and productive collaboration between the existing “in” group and other workers, including newcomers, is welcomed and encouraged. 
    Introducing preventative measures
    As there is a fine line between bullying and corrupt conduct, it is vital that companies wanting change introduce a number of preventative measures to deal with both problems. Studies have shown that workplaces which have positive measures, where there is open communication, workers work well together and respect each other, it is harder for a bully to ensconce themselves and intimidate others. 

    Also workplaces that encourage an “examining the foundations” approach by supporting employees to participate in systemic workplace improvements which are clearly defined and well understood by the staff, have often developed an effective means of preventing and detecting corruption. 

    So what else can be done? Employers can step up and put in place practices that work towards identifying and limiting, if not eliminating, corrupt conduct in the workplace. 
    Breaking down entrenched systems
    Steps that would help breakdown entrenched illegal workplace systems include:
    • Knowing what exactly workplace corruption is; 
    • Having appropriate and clear workplace complaint systems which are promoted or known to employees; 
    • Ensuring that there are structured levels of accountability within the organisation so that no one person or group is made responsible for critical tasks;
    • Having sound internal reporting systems; 
    • Putting in place complaint and grievance procedures that are correctly followed; 
    • Having more than one person in charge of tasks where corruption can easily occur (such as procurement supplier) and make sure the management team is in the same building as its employees. If that is not possible, introduce a system of regular random visits and checks. 

    It is also worth noting that corruption is not a fixed thing, it is constantly changing and evolving. Therefore it is necessary to put systems in place that check workplace safeguards regularly and determine they are continuing to be effective. This is one of the only ways to try and eliminate “in” groups and a culture of silence. 
    Why training is important
    Incorporating training in the workplace can be a powerful tool for change.The Certificate IV in Government Fraud Control course is a national qualification tailored to workplace investigators who want to work in government and employees who want to be promoted within their departments. The course covers areas such as: 
    • identifying fraud and corruption; 
    • carrying out risk assessments; 
    • how to conduct investigations in such matters

    While it is not often spoken about, worker corruption and dishonest conduct in the public sector is a common and widespread problem though it is hard to pinpoint, identify and report on. While many employees may see conduct they know is not legal or appropriate they may keep quiet for fear of retribution or being shut out by their co-workers. 
    Breaking that cycle is hard. Managers need to be trained to present themselves as role models to their staff. Regular training of all employees on bullying issues also reminds everyone about what conduct is acceptable, and reinforces the message that bullying is not tolerated. 

    The role of the whistle blower remains important. An employee wanting to expose corruption may end up being the last resort to trying to getting it stopped or changing the culture, especially if it is ingrained within the workplace.

    While there is legislation in place in Australia that allows employees to report corruption via a whistleblowing hotline without fear of retaliation or reprisal, there are recent reports that suggest it is still very difficult for whistleblowers to come forward without there being a backlash. 

    Some politicians are now calling for stronger whistle blowing laws to encourage reporting of corporate corruption while ensuring that individuals are protected and not victimised for speaking out.  As the corrupt workplace culture is addressed, reviewed, disassembled and new, open and constructive systems put in place, workplace corruption can be stopped though it is unlikely to happen overnight. 

    Find out more about workplace corruption in this free Whitepaper download

    Corruption and misconduct are often hard to detect without the assistance of employees. A well supported confidential hotline is an essential component of your risk management strategy. Research how our hotline service can assist. Whistleblowerhotline.com.au



    Our tradition of whistle blowing

    - Wednesday, September 21, 2016


    By Andrew Hedges

    Whistle blowing is a part of who we are
    Australia is no stranger to a tradition of whistle blowing and it comes in various forms. They can be individuals who speak out against fraud, wrongdoing, illegal activities and corruption in the workplace.

    But, while that whistle blowing tradition has probably been around since Federation, it has to be said that there are various points of view about whether whistle blowing is well regarded by society and organisations at large, and what its role is in relation to corruption in the workplace.

    After all, what do we mean by corruption in the workplace? Do we mean white-collar crime? Or something far more subtle such as turning a blind eye to fiddling with timesheets or a full-time employee applying for sick leave when they’re in fact working a second job or simply wanting to go to the beach (and everyone else at work knows it). What are the ramifications for the whistle blower if these dishonest behaviours are uncovered in the workplace and he or she is blamed?

    There are some arguments that unless the behaviour is widely condemned, it can become a part of the corporate culture and therefore can be hard to systematically uncover, let alone break the cycle of corruption in the workplace.

    Whistle blowers are marginalised
    Indeed, current newspaper reports suggest whistle blowers are not well regarded in Australia and a recent case has brought this to light. An Australian employee acted as a whistle blower in the US about BHP Billiton’s mining activities overseas several years ago. While the culture in the US favours and protects whistle blowers, several cases found that Australian workers are often not well protected here.

    These cases in Australia since 2014 revealed that “those who flag corruption inside companies receive limited or no protection and are often sacked or mistreated, while in the US, which paid for evidence that exposed alleged bribery by BHP Billiton, whistle blowers are encouraged to come forward,” the   newspaper report found.

    It would be naïve to think corruption in the workplace does not occur in both the private and public sectors.  Traditionally, though, it is often the government sector which has difficulties dealing with these issues. There are a variety of reasons for this, they include poor management skills, poor training in dealing with whistle blowers and corruption in the workplace, the organisation is too big for managers to keep a close eye on individual teams or there is a culture of sweeping everything under the carpet.

    Just as inappropriate behaviours such as alcoholism, bullying or sexual harassment can be tolerated in the workplace for quite some time because workers are worried about the implications of “dobbing someone in” ,  a corporate culture can exist where employees are encouraged to support corruption in one way or another.  It can often have to do with individuals wanting to feel as if they belong to the team. Are they accepted by their colleagues, or do they fear rejection if they don’t toe the line?

    Wanting to fit in
    If there is an accepted mode of behaviour, such as filling in timesheets incorrectly for personal gain, would the newcomer be accepted if he or she said something about it? They can be encouraged to join in to be a part of the group, or be intimidated into silence, and decide to comply with the “norm” rather than face being ostracised. These group dynamics can have a big influence on how co-workers are expected to behave.  Workers who have been engaging in corrupt conduct in one way or another may use their power to assert their views on others.

    Corruption can thrive in a collaborative environment where team members unite to continue the corrupt way of doing things. If exaggerated travel or lunch expenses forms, for example, need to be signed off, there could be a secretive and collaborative way of ensuring that they go through the system.  These dishonest networks can grow and prosper within an organisation as long as no-one rocks the boat.  Another aspect is that ignorance can play a part, too.

    Don’t rock the boat
    If a newcomer is told that this is the way things have always been done, there is no reason for them to question it even if it seems odd or contrary to how things are done in other workplaces.  And even if some dubious methods are questioned, cunning workers who know how to manipulate the system are able to cover their tracks, pressure others to keep quiet or fabricate evidence so no-one is the wiser. It can prevent or severely hinder an investigation from uncovering anything untoward and it explains why our tradition of whistle blowing is a complex one.

    To find out more about corruption in workplace download this free Whitepaper here.

    Corruption and misconduct are often hard to detect without the assistance of employees. A well supported confidential hotline is an essential component of your risk management strategy. Research how our hotline service can assist. Whistleblowerhotline.com.au