Eight Ways NOT to Respond to a Whistleblower Report

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What hotel or restaurant veteran hasn’t heard the phrase “time to lean, time to clean”? We ensure our properties are spotless inside and out, maintain dress codes and scripted phrases for every interaction, and I would challenge any high-fashion magazine cover model to look more polished than a GM walking through their lobby or dining room to greet a VIP guest.

However, when it comes to responding to an internal whistleblower allegation, few GMs, chefs or managers have a script or SOP. Even the most experienced leaders generally cycle through the following emotions when confronted with an allegation of fraud, bribery or other misconduct:

  • INDIGNANT. “No way this happened on my watch.”
  • DENIAL. “This is made up.”
  • DISMAY. “How could they do this to ME? We’re like a family here!”
  • CLARITY: “Well, we HAVE been seeing… (insert red flag here).”
  • ACCEPTANCE: “Let’s find out what happened and resolve this.”

Keeping these emotions in mind, here are a few tips on what NOT to do when you learn an allegation was made (anonymously or not) about someone in your organization.

Don’t:

  1. Assume you are to blame or will be blamed. Even the most talented and vigilant leaders and managers have been defrauded or dealt with accusations of misconduct.
  2. Dismiss or ignore the report or reporter. If you (or whomever receives the report) can respond directly in writing or in person, thank them sincerely for their report, let them know you will look into it, and ask them if they can be available for follow-up questions if needed.
  3. Assume the reporter is fabricating the report. It doesn’t matter if they just received an unfavorable performance review or were terminated. Unfortunately, some employees believe in keeping things “in their back pocket” rather than speaking out immediately. But, a less-than-gracious motivation for reporting does not mean the reporter is being untruthful.
  4. Confront the implicated person with the report. Plan how (or if) the matter will be investigated or cooperate with whomever is leading the investigation. Do your homework. If you charge over to the implicated employee with an accusation, do you expect them to confess on the spot? Avoid putting them on notice until the time is right, or you may risk losing key evidence that can be destroyed or manipulated before your investigation even gets started.
  5. Share with those who do not need to know. I know every hotel and restaurant is a family atmosphere. But sharing the details, or even the existence of an allegation, outside of a “need to know” circle can lead to possible damage to someone’s reputation, hinder an objective investigation, and lead to a leak of a confidential matter to a larger audience, among other risks.
  6. Delegate an investigation to the reporter’s immediate supervisor. Although this may be justified in some situations, generally it is best to keep it objective and independent. That supervisor may not want to admit something happened on their watch – or worse, they may be involved in the scheme.
  7. Go wobbly on disciplinary action. Everyone is remorseful when they have been caught. Be consistent. Consult with HR and Legal if you have the resources available. Consider reporting to law enforcement if warranted. Your entire team is watching your next move.
  8. Retaliate against the reporter. Just don’t. And ensure no one else does.

Do:

  • Be objective, fair and thorough in your investigation of both the “accused” and the “accuser.”
  • Continue to focus on your business. Ensure whomever investigates does so with minimal disruption to your operation and do not tolerate gossip.
  • Learn from the experience. How did the fraud or misconduct occur and how can you prevent it from happening again?

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