Time for Companies to Establish an Independent Corporate Ombudsman

by Michael Volkov

Corporate commitment to speak up cultures is suffering.  The Ethics and Compliance Initiative’s recent Global National Business Ethics Survey (available HERE) contained a critical finding – corporate instances of retaliation against employee for raising concerns doubled in the last five years.

In the 2013 survey, 22 percent of respondents reported instances of retaliation against employees.  This number increased to an astounding 44 percent of respondents in the 2018 survey.  This is an astonishing result, especially when you consider all of the positive developments over the last five years in the ethics and compliance field.

My question is basic – are companies really interested in hearing and responding to employee concerns?

The deterioration in this basic relationship between company leadership and employees will undermine any chance a company may have to develop an ethical culture.  It goes without saying, but employees will not trust their companies if there is no real commitment to listen to and address their concerns.

An additional finding on this issue in the ECI report should be addressed as well – most attempts to retaliate against an employee occurred in the three-week period following the communications of the concern.  Companies have to mindful of the period of time shortly after a manager or executive learns of a specific concern to prevent any retaliation against the employee.

The significant increase in retaliation against employees who raise concerns is disturbing and runs counter to corporate progress made in elevating culture and ethics.  The message behind retaliation is devastatingly clear – do not rock the boat, do not complain, and keep your mouth shut or else you will suffer.  Unfortunately, companies that do not listen to their employees are bound to suffer serious harm from misconduct or disasters that could have been avoided had they encouraged employees to raise concerns.

The value of maintaining a speak up culture is unquestionable.  Companies that listen to their employees avoid safety, economic and serious harms, and promote a positive culture, leading to the sustainable growth and improved performance.

In the face of this obvious contradiction, forward-thinking companies need to reexamine a possible solution – an independent ombudsman.  My friend and mentor, Judge Stanley Sporkin served for years as the BP Ombudsman and has frequently touted the benefits of such a program.

An independent ombudsman, if properly established, can provide an important avenue for employee concerns.  The commitment to an independent ombudsman can result in trust between the company’s leaders and its employees.  It is a costly step but one that can bring significant results, especially in those industries subject to incentivized whistleblowers.

An independent ombudsman, however, has to operate with backing from senior leadership and the company’s board.  If the ombudsman identifies issues for remediation, the company cannot fight nor ignore the recommendations.  The ombudsman’s credibility depends on his/her ability to resolve issues and mandate changes.

An ombudsman’s ability to promote a speak up culture requires that he/she have adequate authority and resources to investigate specific issues, and to promote its function of responding to employee concerns in a timely and effective manner.  As the ombudsman gains credibility, employees will increase reporting of concerns with the expectation that they will be heard, investigated and addressed.  This is a vital communications loop that has to be promoted as part of a speak up culture.

It is unfortunate that corporate governance in the United States has reached the point where companies can no longer meet basic requirements for a speak up culture without establishing a separate and independent mechanism.  The trend over the last few years is unmistakable – retaliation against employees who report concerns continues to increase despite corporate awareness of the dangers of such behavior to a company‘s culture.  The facts are the facts, and change is needed.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Michael Volkov, The Volkov Law Group | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Michael Volkov

The Volkov Law Group on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.