HR needs to be involved in whistleblower investigations just as soon as a claim is received. And that’s probably most critical in smaller companies where human resources may have the most experience in conducting internal investigations.
Earl “Chip” Jones, an attorney at Littler Mendelson, says the involvement of human resource professionals is important because the department is typically the one that will have to ensure compliance with the anti-retaliation provisions of Dodd-Frank.
“If HR doesn’t know about complaints,” says Jones, who, among other employment areas, specializes in corporate compliance and ethics, and whistleblowing and retaliation, “they can’t do anything about (preventing retaliation against the whistleblower). It’s another reason to know the hot spots in the business where a claim may arise.”
Complaints include classic personnel issues
A Littler Mendelson survey found two-thirds of the mostly S&P 500 companies that participated expect claims to increase in the coming months.
In larger companies, the investigation into the legitimacy of the claim of fraud or some other securities law violation is handled primarily by the legal or finance departments. HR may participate, Jones says, because complaints often include classic personnel issues.
In smaller companies, Jones says, human resource professionals “may have a very active role in the investigation.” HR, he notes, may have the most experience of any group in investigating employee claims.
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Training is crucial for supervisors
With the new federal Office of the Whistleblower getting up to 100 tips a day, Jones counsels companies to take stock of their potential exposure and plan for what to do when and if a claim is lodged.
Training is crucial; especially training for supervisors and managers, Jones adds. Littler Mendelson’s training includes whistleblower claims that involve more than just Dodd-Frank issues.
“Never expect a clean HR only issue,” says Jones. Training should incorporate all “the twists and turns that occur in every workplace.”