Ethics Hot Lines
Ethics hot lines, also known as help lines, assist lines, and guidance hot lines[1] are mechanisms employed by organizations finding it difficult to monitor internal functions. High ethical standards are vital to organization morale; after being largely ignored in the business world, leaders in the industry are finally realizing the importance of setting ethical standards for the organization and it’s employees. Most organizations maintain a pluralistic environment in which there are many different values, depending on the individual employee. It is obvious that employee values may conflict with those of the organization; ethics hot lines are put in place to be used as a guide for employees facing these challenges to ensure a highly functioning workplace.[2]
Ethics hot lines allow employees to anonymously report behavior that does not live up to the organizations particular values or standards. Ethics hot lines allow employees to do more than tap into wrongdoing, they also allow individuals to seek advice about doing the right thing in a particular situation.[3] A large portion of the calls received by hot line administrators are in fact for help or guidance, as employees are able to use this tool as an effective advice resource,[4] as opposed to a whistle-blowing device, which is a common misconception of the use of ethics hot lines.
Ethics hot lines are commonly used as communication mediums to report such occurrences as sexual harassment, unethical or questionable business practices or as a valuable resource for employees seeking advice about doing the right thing in a questionable situation.[5] Ethics hot lines may also be employed in a situation in which the employee’s beliefs may conflict with those of the organization. Hot line administrators are able to council the employee toward making an ethical decision in the best interests of both the individual and the organization. Some view ethics hot lines as part of a continuing advancement toward employee empowerment.[6]

These mechanisms, if used effectively are an important element in a values-based organizational culture[7] allowing for an open communication organizational environment.[8] The perspectives offered by those who operate the hot line can assist in identifying trends within the organization,[9] which can lead to adjustments in policies, and the need for ethical training in the workplace.[10]

Ethics Hot Line Training

Hot line administrators should have appropriate training when operating a communication channel that employees are encouraged to use. The efforts of those offering advice must have strong ethical standards on par to those of the organization, and as the calls received are normally anonymous, administrators must be discrete in handling situations that may need the consideration of a third party. It is essential that administrators have a keen knowledge about all divisions and aspects of the organization in order to accurately answer any query that may be raised by an employee. Ethics hot lines staff meetings should occur frequently[11] in order to make adjustments to reoccurring problems that are being phoned in.

Criticisms of Ethics Hot Lines

Internal communication mechanisms such as ethics hot lines are often a controversial topic among employees in an organization. Hot lines are often criticized for such reasons as:

  • Being regarded as whistle blowing devices, mechanisms for employees to ‘snitch’ on other employees

  • Anonymity is often doubted by employees, as in some instances the call can be traced from its original line[12]

  • Being closely related to ‘Big Brother’- employees are being monitored and encouraged to report other staff members[13]

  • Little is known about the effectiveness of telephone advice counseling, compared to traditional face-to-face counseling[14]


  1. ^ Walter, K. (1995). Ethics hot lines tap into more than wrongdoing. Human Resources Magazine, 40, 9, 79.
  2. ^ Armour, S. (2002). More companies urge workers to blow the whistle. USA today. Retrieved November 8, 2009
  3. ^ Calderón-Cuadrado, R., Álvarez-Arce, J., Rodríguez-Tejedo, I., & Salvatierra, S. (2009). “Ethics hotlines” in transnational companies: A comparative study. Journal of Business Ethics, 88(1), 199-210.
  4. ^ Walter, 1995.
  5. ^ Firm launches ethics hotline. (2006). Hudson Valley Business Journal, 17(1), 7.
  6. ^ Singer, A. W. (1995). 1-800-Snitch. Across the Board, 32(8), 16-21.
  7. ^ Walter, 1995.
  8. ^ Walter, 1995.
  9. ^ Walter, 1995.
  10. ^ Walter, 1995.
  11. ^ Baizerman, M. L. (1976). Hotline research: Critique, response & rejoinder. Professional Psychology, 7(2), 236-239.
  12. ^ Singer, 1995.
  13. ^ Singer, 1995.

  14. ^ Kenny, M. C., & MacEachern, A. G. (2004). Telephone counseling: Are offices becoming obsolete? Journal of Counseling & Development, 82(2), 199-202.