Whistleblowing Service: What Can You Expect From An Ombudsman?

Yulia Landbo

Yulia Landbo

Last updated: Jun 16, 2024 4 min read

In today's fast-paced world, driven by a societal shift towards more ethical business practices, whistleblowing has emerged as a key ethical management tool for organizations.

However, blowing the whistle on issues such as fraud, corruption, misconduct, harassment, bullying, and unethical behavior has in the past sometimes been met with retaliation, making the decision to speak up a difficult one. That's where a whistleblowing service comes in, providing a safe, neutral, and confidential channel for raising and addressing concerns. 

This guide delves into the role of the whistleblowing service in the whistleblowing process, outlines its responsibilities, and discusses what can be expected when seeking assistance. 

What is a whistleblowing service?

A whistleblowing service is a dedicated mechanism or process, often provided by an external third party provider, where a company hires an external representative - an ombudsman - to manage whistleblowing reports for them. As part of this process, employees, contractors, or stakeholders are able to report concerns about unethical behavior, misconduct, or illegal activities within an organization to a neutral party who confidentially and independently assesses and investigates received complaints.

What is usually provided within a whistleblowing service? 

The standard full whistleblower service usually consists of three modules: Policy & process introduction, Whistleblower channel, and Screening & case handling.

Policy & Process Introduction

The Policy & Process introduction part of the whistleblowing service is mainly directed at creating or reviewing a whistleblowing policy of the company. Creating a whistleblowing policy is an extensive and demanding process that requires a knowledge of national legislation in the field of whistleblowing and legal provisions.

Here, the whistleblowing service covers:

Whistleblowing tools

Depending on whether companies are only about to implement or already have a whistleblowing hotline, the whistleblowing services include analyzing, setting, and managing reporting tools. 

Among the most common reporting tools are:

The ombudsman can offer one or a few hotlines, depending on what companies would prefer. Today more and more companies choose only digital platforms as it covers all needs and ensures the utmost privacy. However, some companies might choose to complement it with a phone line or an in-person meeting if they feel that their employees are more comfortable with these options. However, this might require a risk assessment of the channel in line with the national legislation, as these channels can’t provide complete anonymity or confidentiality. 


Screening & case handling

The main responsibilities of a whistleblowing service usually include the following:

Depending on the company’s needs, companies can purchase the whole service package or only needed parts of the service. For example, if the company already has a whistleblowing policy and processes in place, but they need help with day to day management of whistleblowing reports, they can ask for screening and case-handling services.

What do you need to know before choosing a whistleblowing service? 

Before selecting a whistleblowing service, it is essential to consider various factors that ensure the service meets the organization's needs while providing the necessary support and protection to whistleblowers. 

Who can provide a whistleblowing service?

An ombudsman can indeed provide a whistleblowing service, serving as an impartial intermediary to help resolve disputes and address concerns. In most cases, ombudsmen are trained lawyers who are independent from a hiring organization, have a background in conflict resolution, are able to communicate effectively, are familiar with the applicable laws and regulations governing whistleblowing, etc.

Below are some key aspects to consider when choosing a whistleblowing service:

Whistleblowing service: how to report via an ombudsman

Reporting via a whistleblowing service / hired lawyer doesn't differ much from usual reporting. In the end, the tools that are used are the same as if you were submitting a report to the internal compliance manager via a hotline. The main difference is a person appointed to go through whistleblowing reports: instead of having it hired within the company, it is a trusted person hired outside.

Thus, reporting concerns via an ombudsman within a whistleblowing service will typically look like this:

What is a digital whistleblowing hotline?

A digital whistleblowing hotline (or whistleblowing system) is a service that helps employees, employees, contractors, or stakeholders report malpractice and unlawful or unethical behavior within the workplace. It is an important tool for reducing risks and building trust, as it enables managers and team leaders to detect and act on possible misconduct at an early stage.

Historically, the term ‘whistleblowing hotline’ referred to a telephone-based reporting service. Today it is used as a collective term to describe all forms of whistleblowing systems, including digital ones.

Whistleblowing Service vs. Whistleblowing system: competing or can they work together?

A part of the whistleblowing services typically refers to external, third-party providers that offer a secure and confidential platform for reporting misconduct. These services often include hotlines, email addresses, or online portals where employees can report their concerns without fear of retaliation. 

In other words, a whistleblowing system will always be a part of the modern whistleblowing service. A whistleblowing system such as a digital portal complements a whistleblowing service ensuring an ombudsman can provide comprehensive support to employees who decide to speak up. 

Overall, when it comes to promoting transparency and accountability in organizations, both whistleblowing services and systems play vital roles. They never compete, but supplement each other. 

Thus, for example, an ombudsman can operate on a whistleblowing system and receive cases through the platform, ensuring ultimate confidentiality and providing an opportunity for anonymous reporting, if their digital platform allows for it.

FAQ

Is whistleblowing via the ombudsman / whistleblowing service anonymous?

Whistleblowing via an ombudsman/ within a whistleblowing service is not always anonymous. It can be anonymous, if the ombudsman introduces an anonymous whistleblowing channel, such as a whistleblowing system with the required features and security.

Either way, whistleblowing via the whistleblowing service is always confidential. Not sure about the difference? Check the article on anonymous & confidential reporting

The primary goal of a whistleblowing service is to create a safe and confidential environment for individuals to report concerns, and whistleblowers can specifically request that their identity remains confidential throughout the reporting and investigation process. 

Is reporting to an ombudsman considered to be internal or external reporting?

Given their independent and impartial nature, sometimes reporting through a third-party ombudsman can be misunderstood as external reporting. However, this is not the case, as the ombudsman is typically appointed or contracted by the organization to facilitate the reporting and resolution of concerns within the organization. Their key function is to assist in addressing concerns internally, acting as an impartial intermediary within the organization's internal procedures, and investigating cases on behalf of the company. As a result, their involvement in the reporting process is utterly internal.

What is a whistleblower ombudsman?

A whistleblower ombudsman is an external third-party provider hired by companies to manage whistleblowing reports for them. Ombudsman plays a role of a neutral party for the hiring company by acting as a case handler on behalf of the company. When reporting via ombudsman employers or third parties can be assured of full confidentiality of the provided information.  

What is the role of the ombudsman in whistleblowing services?

The role of the ombudsman in whistleblowing services is to serve as an impartial intermediary, ensuring a safe and confidential environment for individuals to report concerns and facilitating the investigation and resolution of those concerns in a timely, reliable, and discrete manner. 

The ombudsman should, to the greatest extent possible, protect a whistleblower against any acts of retaliation or discrimination at the workplace linked to or resulting from whistleblowing.

Looking for a whistleblowing ombudsman?

At Whistleblower Software, we partner with highly-qualified legal experts from any part of Europe. We have an extensive network of both small compliance offices and the largest law firms in Europe. Let us help you find the right one for you. It is absolutely free of charge. Contact us

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This article was developed for information purposes only. For legal advice, contact your trusted advisor. Alternatively, Whistleblower Software can connect you with a local legal expert.

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