Open, confidential or anonymous reporting?

A concern is raised confidentially if reporters give their name on the condition that it is not revealed without their consent.[1] Guidelines vary between assuming confidentiality as a starting point for a complaint and urging that complaints be raised openly as a first option, where possible. Nevertheless, both Transparency International[2] and Public Concern at Work[3] (among other sources) have identified confidentiality as a cornerstone provision for any internal complaints mechanism.

Organisations should take all necessary precautions to protect the identity of a whistleblower. However, the issue of confidentiality can be complicated as more people come to learn of a report, as in some instances the nature of the disclosure may allow the report to be traced back to the reporter. While reporting persons should be warned of this possiblity, organisations should take care to ensure that such warnings strike a balance between being honest and realistic while not being couched in terms which will deter potential whistleblowers from reporting.[4]

Positions vary regarding anonymous reporting, with opponents often citing lack of detail or difficulties in providing adequate protection to the whistleblower as reasons. Measures taken to effectively manage anonymous reports could take the form of an explanation in the written policy of the limitations of anonymous reporting. For example, some organisations point out that anyonmous reporters may not be able to receive the same support and protection available to confidential reporters for reasons such as a lack of documentary evidence linking the worker to the disclosure.[5] Organisations can also urge that anonymous reports include as much detail as possible to mitigate difficulties investigating and following up on an anonymous report.[6]

It is worth nothing that organisations affected by the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act are obliged to provide for anonymous reporting in their policies.[7] Regarding anonymity, Transparency International’s position is that full protection should be granted to whistleblowers who have disclosed information anonymously and who subsequently have been identified without their explicit consent.[8]


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