Innocent rumour or damaging allegation?


How to keep workplace gossip around the water-cooler and out of the courtroom

In the world of business; rumours, smears and unfair representations can be extremely damaging. While some false stories fade away naturally, others catch. Rumours that gain momentum can have a significant effect on the success of your business or even lead to legal action. Whether your company is taking on the industry gossip grapevine or facing allegations in court, it is vital to be equipped with the right tools to defend your business and protect its reputation.

Implementing an ethical business reporting system allows you to stay one step ahead of the rumour mill. Senior executives/Boards are often the most disconnected from the day-to-day happenings of a workplace. An ethical business reporting system provides monthly reports to the board, keeping you informed of submissions as they are made. This gives you the opportunity to resolve issues internally before they have a chance to escalate beyond the walls of your company.

An ethical business reporting system is not only a preventative measure but could help you retrospectively. In the unfortunate event that a harmful allegation is brought against your company publicly or privately, an ethical business reporting system can help you to mitigate the damage. Allegations like these are often a matter of he said she said, which means the ability to produce evidence to support your case gives you a significant advantage.  The presence of an ethics facility shows that your company does not tolerate unprofessional or unethical behaviour and allows you to produce a log of past reports to demonstrate this.


Let’s look at a real life case study (completely anonymised of course!) in which a company was working through a restructuring process and subsequent to this, they wound up defending themselves against allegations of bullying. Restructuring a business or organisation is a difficult process and is often stressful for employees and executives alike. These decisions tend not to come lightly and are usually a necessity in order for a company to thrive in its industry or tackle new challenges. Unfortunately, major change such as this doesn’t come without ruffling a few feathers and regularly leads to some level of reorganisation/and in the worst-case job loss among existing employees.

The company in question sought to do the right thing by its potentially affected employees and implemented a transparent consultation process, with four potential outcomes for employees. The worst-case scenario being that the employee’s role would not be a part of the future structure of the company and that no similar role would be available; resulting in the employee being made redundant as per the company policy.

All employees were informed of how the consultation would work and what the potential outcomes would be. After a lengthy consultation process, sadly some employees roles were deemed redundant.

Despite the company’s best efforts to undertake this process with transparency and empathy, several aggrieved individuals reacted by accusing the company of a ‘rabid culture of bullying’ and subsequently filed a case with the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

After both parties spent a considerable amount of time and money on the case, the ERA found in favour of the company that the bullying allegations were unsubstantiated. Although this was a good outcome for the company, by the time the decision was reached the company’s name had already been dragged through the mud and there had been immense pressure on a lot of people (on both sides).

How can you safeguard yourself against a situation like this? The answer is that you can’t definitively. Why? Unfortunately you can do everything right and still be at the mercy of one individual’s actions. What you can do is be equipped to mitigate the damage.

In this case the presence of a whistle-blowing system such as Report It Now may not have prevented the false allegations being made, it could have been used as evidence to support the company’s case before it even reached the ERA.

The implementation of an ethical business reporting system shows a commitment to a bullying free workplace culture. The company would have been able to produce a log of bullying allegations made over time, or lack thereof, and could have used this information to support their case. These tools could have saved a lot of time and money, and shielded the company from the potentially harmful accusations spreading further.

If an ethical business reporting system had been in place, the Board would have been receiving monthly reports on any submissions made and would be able to see trends in the behaviour of employees. In the best case scenario the company would have been in a position to take appropriate preventative action rather than being forced to deal with the fall-out through the legal action. Whether through prevention or mitigation, an ethical reporting system would have been a valuable asset for this company.

Gossip in the workplace is inevitable. Businesses cannot insulate themselves from rumours; they can however employ a support system to limit its effects. Stay informed and keep your office bullying speculation and subsequent allegations in check. GIve us a call today or download our brochure.

“Report It Now’s whistleblowing hotline has provided our employees with a secure, independent system where they can report unethical behaviour. In an industry where fraudulent activity can occur, their service has saved us thousands of dollars over the years.”

Restaurant Brands NZ Limited

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