How Companies Can Create Anti-Retaliation Programs and Protect Whistleblowers
Companies should design, implement, and monitor an effective anti-retaliation program that protects whistleblowers and encourages employees to report health and safety violations in the workplace. OSHA recommends five key elements to creating an anti-retaliation program within a company:
- Management, leadership, commitment, and accountability: In order to have a successful and effective anti-retaliation program, senior management must demonstrate a commitment to abiding by these values, including the code of conduct and fostering an environment that protects whistleblowers. Senior management should be leaders and lead by example. Their example should focus on accountability for wrongdoing, preventing employer retaliation, and protecting employees.
- System for listening to and resolving employees’ safety and compliance concerns: Companies and employers should make it a point to encourage a work environment where unsafe working condition that pose a danger to health and safety are reported without fear of retaliation. Active listening to employee concerns and prompt responses to such concerns are the best ways to achieve this open work environment. Regarding the reporting of concerns by employees, companies and employers should establish specific procedures that (a) allow employees to report problems, (b) initiate prompt investigations for these problems, (c) address the reported weaknesses, and (d) ensure an effective resolution can be reached.
- System for receiving and responding to reports of retaliation: If an employee believes that their supervisor has retaliated against them for engaging in certain protected behavior, that employee should have a clearly defined and independent channel that they can use to report such behavior. It would defeat the point of reporting wrongful behavior if the employee were required to report to the supervisor that retaliated against them. The reporting channel should go directly to upper management or other upper personnel. Personnel at all levels—including management, ethics committees, human resources—should be involved in responding to the claims. The procedures for reporting these claims should be accessible to everyone in the company.
- Anti-retaliation training for employees and managers: Personnel at all levels within the company—including managers—should receive critical anti-retaliation training. Training is a key component of any anti-retaliation program because it provides all company personnel members with the essential knowledge, skills, and tools they need to identify, report, prevent, and respond to potential violations of the law. The training given should be tailored to the industry and teach all personnel members about critical federal whistleblower protection laws as well as internal company policies.
- Program oversight: Even the most effective and well-designed anti-retaliation policies need oversight to ensure that it is working as intended and continues to work. Companies and employers should make it a point to construct and implement a detailed plan for oversight of their anti-retaliation program. This includes reviewing the results of periodic oversight activities, correcting weakness, and improving the design to account for changed circumstances.
Creating a company-wide anti-retaliation program with the above five elements will create a work environment where employees feel comfortable reporting their concerns without fear of their supervisor’s retaliation. It can also help companies and employers learn of potential dangerous working conditions and then respond appropriately to rectify those problems. Having an effective anti-retaliation program in place further signals to the federal government that the company is making an effort to follow the law and protect its workforce personnel and the public from harm.