Ethics Policies vs. Whistleblower Policies - What’s the Difference?

Many companies and organizations have a code of ethics and best practices. However, these policies are useless unless you have a meaningful way to handle violations.

This means in addition to a code of ethics and best practices, your company should also have in place a whistleblower policy for reporting violations

While there are similarities between ethics policies and whistleblower policies, there are distinct differences.

(More from CMS: Ethics Hotline Service)

What is an Ethics Policy?

An ethics policy is a document that defines the standards an organization holds its members to. Ethics policies vary from industry to industry and from company to company. There are, however, certain elements contained in most ethics policies:

  • Internal standards of conduct
  • External standards of conduct
  • Confidentiality standards
  • Conflicts of interest standards

A good ethics policy will address each of these concerns and define a clear set of best practices for each. A good ethics policy should also be enforced and that’s where a whistleblower policy comes into play.

What is a Whistleblower Policy?

A whistleblower policy is a document that defines how ethics violations should be reported. Much like an ethics policy, whistleblower policies vary from industry to industry and company to company. Again, like an ethics policy, there are certain key elements contained in most whistleblower policies:

  • What violations should be reported
  • Who the violations should be reported to
  • How the violations should be reported
  • Protection from retaliation
  • Protection of anonymity

Overall, a good whistleblower policy clearly defines how to report violations and gives the whistleblower protection from retaliation.

(More from CMS: Standard Elements of a Whistleblower Policy)

In general, an ethics policy defines what violations are reportable and a whistleblower policy defines how those violations should be reported. This is by no means the only difference between the two and before finalizing either an ethics policy or a whistleblower policy you should consult the advice of a legal professional.