4 key characteristics of a whistleblower system

Knowing the top features of a high-quality whistleblowing system can help organisations and companies offer employees the right information, advice, and channel for reporting wrongdoings, while staying compliant with the EU Whistleblower Directive. This includes ensuring employees are equipped to identify the organisation’s ethical values and report any wrongdoings. In a 2018 survey conducted by the UK Institute of Business Ethics, 43% of respondents have been aware of misconduct in the workplace. 

The top reasons they gave for not speaking up about the issue were that they didn’t believe corrective actions would be taken and didn’t want to jeopardise their job. Employees in Portugal (49%) and Italy (50%) were the least likely to report incidents. Workers in the UK (67%) and Switzerland (58%) were most likely to do so. Employees who are aware of misconduct need to feel comfortable enough to raise concerns confidentially without fearing losing their job or alienating their colleagues. 

4 Key Characteristics of a Whistleblower System

Having a whistleblowing system can support organisations in reassuring employees. These tools can also support organisations in gathering important data about their workforce, including concerns and attitudes. For example, millennials are the most likely to be aware of an ethics program, see misconduct, and discuss issues at team meetings, but are also most likely to say good results are rewarded even if achieved through questionable practices. The following are four fundamental features your whistleblowing system should have:

1. Data protection aligned with the GDPR

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) details the requirements companies and organisations must meet when collecting, storing, or managing the personal data of consumers and employees. Personal data is defined as a person’s name, address, identification documents, income, demographic profile, IP address, or health information. The GDPR applies to all EU-based companies that engage in processing personal data related to goods and services offered to EU citizens, regardless of where the data processing takes place. Companies established outside the EU are also covered by the GDPR rules. 

NorthWhistle is a whistleblowing system that allows you to stay compliant with the GDPR. The tool can help ensure employees understand data processing rules and what they are consenting to when they submit a report or share personal information. It ensures detailed records are kept and written procedures and guidelines are regularly updated and made accessible to employees. Compliance with the GDPR can be seamless when a whistleblowing system is used. 

According to techtarget.com, the top concerns cited by companies when complying with the GDPR include:

  • Having no way to determine which data to save or delete
  • Deleting data that may be useful in the future
  • Being unable to identify, locate and manage personal data
  • Not having the right tools to monitor data in real-time
  • Being unprepared to protect personal data. 

Whistleblowing systems address these concerns by providing the right tools to collect and monitor data in real time. In the event of a breach, the software notifies the person responsible for acknowledging and following up on disclosures within the necessary timeline, which is a requirement of the GDPR and the EU Directive. The whistleblowing system instantly documents relevant information such as the nature of the breach, the individuals involved, and the date when the incident took place, allowing your company to share information with authorities should there be a need. 

2. Alignment with EU Whistleblower Directive

Whistleblower systems give companies a mechanism for compliance that is compatible with the EU Whistleblower Directive. Article 8(2) of the Directive requires companies and organisations with 50 or more workers to set up and operate their own internal channels as a strategy for enabling workers to report. Article 8(3) states that Member States must ensure companies in the private sector establish these channels and the proper procedures for ensuring they work effectively. A whistleblowing tool provides clear guidance for creating a policy that encourages transparency, trust, and accountability at all levels of the organisation. 

The tool can be used by anyone who falls under the definition of a reporting person, including employees, volunteers, freelancers, and even external persons with connections to the company, which is in line with the Directive. The reporting channel should be efficient, easy to access by the reporting employee, and comprehensive in its procedural information. The tool allows you to share access with an impartial person designated to follow up on the case and manage communication between the whistleblower and the representative conducting the investigation.  

3. Stay Up to Date with Local Laws

There are dozens of federal, state, and local level laws that deal with fraudulent or unethical activity. A 2021 report by BluePrint for Free Speech found that since the EU Whistleblower Directive passed, many nations have seen an increase in interest regarding national whistleblower laws. That said, there continue to be significant gaps in the area of providing immunity and anonymity to whistleblowers and there have been many delays in implementing the Directive due to the COVID-19 pandemic and election cycles. 

In Germany, it appears most political parties support the implementation of the Directive, while in Spain, a law proposed in 2020 failed to meet the EU requirements. Austria has made less progress with implementing the Directive and there are significant gaps between these national and EU rules. This is in part because only the states of Burgenland, Tyrol, and Vorarlberg have laws that protect whistleblowers. In the Czech Republic, the obligations to implement whistleblower rights have not been met. At the time of writing, a new draft bill was being discussed in Parliament, which would establish internal reporting for breaches and potentially take effect in 2023.  

In Greece, there have been significant delays in transposing the Directive due to concerns about national security. The European Organisation of Military Associations and Trade Unions (EUROMIL) recently identified important shortfalls in existing legislation, including restrictions imposed on freedom of expression and professional secrecy and challenges in implementing an internal reporting channel outside of the chain of command. In Hungary, there are currently no draft laws on the table and no clear plans to implement the EU Directive. Other EU countries are consistently working to address flaws in their internal systems in order to meet the minimum standards for whistleblower rights and protection. As Member States make progress, a whistleblowing system can help you stay informed about real-time changes in various rules that can impact your company.

4. Have an Anonymized Voice Option

Voice anonymization is one of several technical elements to consider when deciding which whistleblowing system to implement. Providing a channel free from fear of retribution is key to creating a safe space for employees and a ‘speak-up’ culture. An anonymized voice feature offers whistleblowers a way to speak up and be heard and empowers them to report workplace misconduct without revealing their identity. An effective whistleblowing system records vital information employees disclose about incidents such as corruption, discrimination, fraud, and bullying. 

High-quality voice anonymization allows the listener to clearly understand what the speaker is saying while also providing protection from de-anonymization. A 2022 study conducted by Erik Hellman and Mattias Nordstand found that some of the most popular voice anonymizing whistleblower system feature methods like a pitch divider, time warping, or layering multiple voices with different frequencies. Northwhistle’s voice anonymization tool provides these elements of protection and ensures that the identity of the whistleblower is not revealed, which increases employee confidence in your reporting channel. Our technology protects against reverse engineering, making it difficult to isolate a speaker’s voice. 

A tool that allows employees to report wrongdoings anonymously, keeps management up to date on compliance issues, and keeps data secure reduces the risk of a whistleblower being identified while increasing transparency and improving your ability to flag problems. A high-quality whistleblowing system provides a secure environment and workplace for employees who report wrongdoings and report issues of non-compliance.