A new NAVEX study, the 2018 Ethics & Compliance Hotline and Incident Management Benchmark Report, shows an increase in the substantiation rate of reports related to HR, Diversity and Workplace Respect in 2017.

According to NAVEX, the upward trend in substantiation of HR-related cases should be of particular interest to compliance and HR professionals. There has long been tension in organizations around whether compliance hotlines should accept HR-related cases. 

NAVEX Global’s research also found a slight uptick in the rate of harassment-related reports made in the fourth quarter, which coincided with the rise of the #MeToo movement in late 2017.

Of note and concern was a declining rate of the already low number of reports of retaliation coming in to the internal reporting systems, which went from 0.93 percent in last year’s findings to 0.66 percent in 2017. Organizations historically receive few internal reports of retaliation. Employees who believe they have experienced retaliation are more likely to take this concern outside the organization as shown by data from various regulatory agencies. However, at the same time, the substantiation rate of those retaliation reports that were received increased to its highest level, 32 percent – up from 26 percent.

“Retaliation has received a lot of media attention lately – and many executives and compliance officers may be lulled into a false sense of security by the very low number of reports of retaliation coming in to their organizations,” said Carrie Penman, Chief Compliance Officer and Senior Vice President, Advisory Services, NAVEX Global. “But low reporting of retaliation concerns doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening, and organizations, including their boards of directors, need to proactively address and monitor this issue to ensure more progress is made.”

The research also found that overall report volume remained at the elevated median rate of 1.4 reports per 100 employees. Case closure time increased slightly to 44 days (up from 42 in last year’s report) significantly above the best practice target of 30-32 days. “Cases that drag on too long send a message to employees that their issue is not being taken seriously,” Penman said.

Other findings in this year’s report include:

  • Thirty-nine percent of all reports were received via “All Other Methods,” e.g.: walk-ins, emails, open door, etc., demonstrating the importance of having multiple reporting channels.
  • A remarkable 64 percent of “All Other Methods” reports were substantiated – up from 46 percent last year – highlighting the importance of documenting reports received from all sources to better understand the full spectrum of issues within an organization. It also demonstrates the importance of ensuring that managers are educated on the appropriate way to respond when issues are raised directly to them.
  • Anonymous reporting continued its slow but steady decline. Fifty-six percent of reports were anonymous, compared with the peak of 65 percent in 2009. This shows that more employees trust the reporting system and the people who manage it.
  • This finding also likely reflects the increase in reporting using “All Other Methods,” where the organization is more likely to know a reporter’s name. The increase in external whistleblower payments and publicity surrounding them could be another factor, as potential whistleblowers might be providing their names at the time of their initial report in the event they later bring their concerns to government regulators.