There’s been a lot more emphasis in the last couple of years about protecting whistleblowers from retaliation by their employers. But new statistics point to another potential problem for employees who report safety or other workplace misconduct:
Retaliation from their co-workers.
A new report from the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) says the percentage of whistleblowers who were victims of workplace violence at the hands of their co-workers has jumped more than 25% since 2009.
Three years ago, just 4% of victims of retaliation reported physical harm to themselves or their property. That number has jumped to 31% as of this year.
ERC President Patricia Harned says they’re not entirely sure why this is the case.
But Amy Leiberman, an attorney who specializes in mediating workplace disputes and retaliation claims tells Forbes part of the reason is the continued weak economy.
Joshua Estrin, a researcher who specializes in the behavioral aspects of violence in the workplace, tells Forbes, “Anytime there’s a spike in anxiety in the workforce … people tend to act in ways they might otherwise not.”
Estrin says these days, when a whistleblower is outed in the workplace, “what might have been a verbal interaction gets physical.”
Harned advocates changing corporate cultures by incentivizing employees to report misconduct by employees or even across the company.
Estrin says that’s a nice theory, but he’s not sure how well it will work. “You’re going to give that guy a Starbucks gift card and thank him?” Estrin ponders.
With or without the gift cards, one industry has gained notice for making just these types of changes. The nuclear industry has been encouraging employees to come forward with concerns over safety, management and operations.
So what are companies to do?
- Do encourage employees to come forward when they see problems.
- The message that this type of “whistleblowing” is supported by the highest ranks of the company.
- Do everything possible to maintain the anonymity of the worker(s) who came forward. As the above-mentioned study shows, it may be for their own personal well-being.
- Investigate the accusations promptly and communicate with the worker(s) who came forward on the progress of the investigation.