INVESTIGATING ANONYMOUS WORKPLACE COMPLAINTS

According the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners 2014 Report to the Nation, most occupational fraud is discovered by way of a tips or merely by accident. In fact, most fraud is discovered by these two means alone. Only a scant 20 percent is uncovered by audit. While not all tips are anonymous, many are. Research shows that approximately 40 percent of all tips are submitted anonymously.

Thus one of most common concerns expressed by organizations that receive tips is, how can one investigate any matter of concern if the reporting party is anonymous?

The answer is simple, and somewhat a variation of the common adage, “don’t shoot the messenger”. Simply, investigate the issue being reported, not the reporter. Follow established investigative protocols by identifying factual information, interviewing employees, vendors, or others who may have knowledge of the issue being reported, and observe – objectively – the area of business where the incident occurred. Gather as many facts as possible before making any determination.

One of the most beneficial tools available when investigating an anonymous complaint is the ability to communicate with the reporter. This may not always be possible, depending on how the tip is received. However, if the recipient organization, makes no effort to investigate a reported concern simply because the reporter is anonymous, it robs itself of the opportunity to solve an issue at perhaps its earliest opportunity. Additionally, it may have failed it your obligation under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines by “…failing to take reasonable steps to prevent or detect criminal conduct.” See 2004 Federal Sentencing Guidelines §8.B.2.1.(b)(6) for details.

The decision to remain anonymous by a reporting party is primarily based on fear ─ fear of retaliation from supervisors or managers or from fellow employees. As such, the one’s decision to remain anonymous is often culturally based. This fear can be alleviated through respectful communications and developing a trusted relationship by the employer with its employees. The end result will be an improved relationship with the workforce and better investigations. Employers and the investigators who assist them should not let anonymity be an artificial roadblock to solving serious problems in the workplace. When someone cries out FIRE, it is not our natural reaction to determine gave the alarm, but to see if in fact there is fire. One’s approach to anonymous allegations of serious misconduct should be handled no differently.