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FAQ: Employee Ethics Hotline

General Information
Definitions
How to File
After a Report is Filed
General Information
Why does the Clerk & Comptroller’s office have an Ethics Hotline?

The Clerk & Comptroller’s office has an organization-wide commitment to ethics, integrity and protecting public funds. While regular audits and strict internal controls are essential tools that are built into how we do business, research shows that fraud is most likely detected through an anonymous tip. Organizations that provide employees with a way to report incidents, such as a hotline, reduce losses and discover fraud and other violations more quickly than those without a hotline. It’s also considered an effective deterrent to fraud, waste, abuse and ethical misconduct.

Why is the Clerk & Comptroller’s office using Ethical Advocate, a third-party reporting service?

Research shows that anonymous hotlines, like the Clerk’s Ethics Hotline, are the most frequently used and most effective way for an organization to find out about fraud, waste, abuse or other violations. As an independent, third-party reporting service, Ethical Advocate ensures anonymity with state-of-the-art security and encryption. It also allows for follow-up and anonymous two-way communication between the person filing the report and those evaluating the incident. (See How can I check on the status of my report?) Many other hotlines are one-way only, unless the filer provides their contact information. Those wishing to file a report can do so 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This is important because research shows that nearly 50 percent of reports are initiated after regular business hours. Ethical Advocate also accepts reports in multiple languages.

Who should use the Ethics Hotline?

The hotline is currently a means for Clerk & Comptroller employees to report any instances of fraud, waste, abuse or ethical misconduct of which they have knowledge or have witnessed. If you are not a Clerk employee, please refer to our list of additional resources.

What should I report?

Clerk & Comptroller employees are encouraged to report to the Ethics Hotline evidence of fraudwasteabuse or ethical misconduct. This includes, but is not limited to: violations of federal, state or local laws, rules or regulations; misappropriation of government resources; gross mismanagement; gross waste of public money; or gross abuse of authority (see examples below).

Definitions
What is fraud?

Fraud refers to an intentional deception or misrepresentation by a person with the knowledge that the deception could result in some unauthorized benefit to him/her or some other person.

Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Personal use of government-owned vehicles, supplies or equipment
  • Violations of procurement policy
  • Submitting false vouchers for reimbursements
  • Soliciting or accepting a bribe or a kickback
  • Intentionally misrepresenting the costs of goods or services provided
  • Falsification of official documents (timesheets, leave reports, travel vouchers, financial records, etc.)
  • Conducting personal business on Clerk & Comptroller time
  • Misappropriation of funds, supplies, etc.
  • Theft or misappropriation of funds, supplies, property, or other resources
  • Forgery or alteration of financial documents or computer files
  • Pursuit of a financial benefit or advantage in violation of conflict of interest policies
  • Profiting by self or others as a result of inside knowledge
What is waste?

Waste refers to the unintentional, thoughtless or careless expenditure, consumption, mismanagement, use or squandering of government resources to the detriment or potential detriment of the Clerk & Comptroller or Palm Beach County. Waste also includes unnecessary incurring of costs as a result of inefficient practices, systems or controls.

Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Purchase of unneeded supplies or equipment
  • Purchase of goods at inflated prices
  • Failure to reuse or recycle major resources or reduce waste generation
What is abuse?

Abuse is the intentional, wrongful, or improper use or destruction of government resources, or seriously improper practice that does not involve prosecutable fraud. Abuse can include the excessive or improper use of an employee or official's position in a manner other than its rightful or legal use. Abuse can occur in financial or non-financial settings.

What is considered ethical misconduct?

Ethical misconduct refers to instances when public officials and government employees conduct their duties in a manner which is not impartial; use their public office for personal gain; or when their private interests are in conflict with their public duties. Detailed information regarding the State's code of ethics for public officers and employees can be found in Florida Statute Chapter 112.

What should NOT be reported to the Ethics Hotline?

The Hotline should not be used for general complaints, suggestions, or personnel issues. Instead, Clerk & Comptroller employees are encouraged to use one of the other options at their disposal including talking to a supervisor, contacting Human Resources or e-mailing SuggestionConnection.

Violations of the Clerk & Comptroller’s Anti-Harassment Policy should be brought to the immediate attention of a supervisor or Human Resources representative. This includes any forms of discrimination or harassment based on race, color, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, national origin, disability, veteran status, marital status, military status, or any other legally protected status. The Anti-Harassment Policy, outlined in Administrative Policy 98-2 and the Employee Handbook, includes procedures for filing a formal complaint.

In addition, threats of workplace violence, emergencies or situations in which the public’s health and safety are at risk should be reported immediately to management and the appropriate law enforcement agency or 911.

For issues not described on this page, please refer to additional resources listing.

How to File
How do I report a possible instance of fraud, waste, abuse or ethical misconduct?

You have several options. You can report an issue online or by calling 1-888-WARN-PBC. Both options utilize Ethical Advocate, a third-party and independent reporting service that allows you to remain anonymous, check the status of your report and more. You may also report an issue directly to the Clerk & Comptroller:

  • Mail: 301 N. Olive Avenue, 9th Floor, West Palm Beach, FL 33401
  • Fax: 561-355-7050
  • Walk-In: Governmental Center, 9th Floor, 301 N. Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach, FL 33401
How do I file a report online?

Click on the “Create a Report” link on the Clerk & Comptroller’s Web site to report an issue on an independent, third-party Web site run by Ethical Advocate. You can also access this site directly by visiting https://pbc.ethicaladvocate.com. On this external Web site, you will need to “Create an Account” by establishing a confidential username and password. This will allow you to return to the site at a later date to check on the status of your report or provide additional information. After you have created your username and password, click on “Create a New Report” to begin reporting your issue. You will be asked a series of questions with the intent of gathering as much pertinent information as possible. You can remain anonymous, if you choose, and are not required to provide personal information. After answering the questions, you will also have the opportunity to attach any documents or files that may help evaluate or investigate the incident. When finished, click on “Submit Report.”

How do I file a report by phone?

Call 1-888-WARN-PBC (1-888-927- 6722) to file a report by phone with Ethical Advocate, an independent reporting service. Much like the process when you report online, you will be asked to create a confidential username and password. This will allow you to call back at a later date to check on the status of your report or provide additional information. After you have created your username and password, you will be asked a series of questions with the intent of gathering as much pertinent information as possible. You can remain anonymous if you choose and are not required to provide personal information.

Why was I asked to create a username and password?

If you file a report online or call 1-888-WARN-PBC, the third-party reporting service Ethical Advocate will require you to create a secure and confidential username and password. Your username and password allow you to log in or call back to check the status of your report or provide additional information. This information is only used to assist you in accessing your account. Ethical Advocate keeps the information secure and does not release the information to the Clerk & Comptroller’s office or any other entity. If you do not wish to create a username and password as required, use one of the other options for reporting fraud, waste, abuse or ethical misconduct to the Clerk’s office.

After a Report is Filed
What happens after I submit a report?

Once the report is submitted with Ethical Advocate either online or by phone, the Clerk & Comptroller’s Public Integrity Unit is immediately notified. The Clerk’s office has access to the content of the report, but not your username or password. Unless you chose to identify yourself when reporting an issue, you will remain anonymous.

Audit Services will then analyze the report to determine if there’s sufficient evidence to substantiate or refute the complaint. If not, a Unit team member will gather additional information by conducting interviews or obtaining documentation. He or she may also request more information from the person who filed the report. Any follow-up questions will be posted on the independent Ethical Advocate Web site. To check if additional information is needed from you, visit the Ethical Advocate Web site and log in using the username and password you created when you first filed your report. Click on “Report Manager” to see if there’s anything posted about your case. You can also call 1-888-WARN-PBC for the same information.

If inappropriate activity is verified, the Audit team will determine cause of the activity, compile an analysis of the complaint, and make a recommendation for action including referring to law enforcement, if necessary. Cases that do not fall within the Clerk & Comptroller’s jurisdiction, or where special expertise is needed, will be referred to the proper authorities.

How can I check on the status of my report or submit additional information after I’ve filed my report?

To check on the status of your report or submit new information, visit the Ethical Advocate Web site and log in using the username and password you created when you first filed your report. Click on “Report Manager” to see if there’s anything posted about your case or to submit additional information. Occasionally, the Clerk's Public Integrity Unit may have additional questions for you. Follow the steps above to see if there are any questions posted. You can also call 1-888-WARN-PBC to check the status of your report or provide additional information.

How can I be sure that my report will remain anonymous and confidential?

Those who wish to remain anonymous can by not providing personal information when filing the report. Additionally, the username and password you’re asked to create when you file online or call 1-888-WARN-PBC, is protected by the third-party reporting service Ethical Advocate and is not released to the Clerk & Comptroller’s office. (See Why was I asked to create a username and password? and How do Florida’s Public Records laws apply to the Ethics Hotline?)

I’m afraid of retaliation if I file a report. Should I be?

The law in Florida protects employees from retaliatory or adverse personnel action for disclosing certain information including, but not limited to, suspected acts of fraud, waste, abuse or ethical misconduct. These protections are detailed in Sections 112.3187-112.31895 of the Florida Statutes known as the “Whistle-blower’s Act.”

What happens if a claim is investigated and found to be untrue?

Investigations are stopped as soon as the complaint investigator reaches the level of evidence that either validates a claim or proves it to be false. If a claim is unsubstantiated, the report is closed and no further action is taken. Those who filed a report online or by calling 1-888-WARN-PBC can log in or call back to check the status of their report.

What happens if a claim is investigated and found to be true?

If an investigation substantiates allegations with enough relevant and credible evidence, the Clerk's Public Integrity Unit will make a recommendation for action including referring to management or law enforcement, if necessary. Violations, depending on the severity, may result in disciplinary action including involuntary termination or arrest. Those who filed a report online or by calling 1-888-WARN-PBC can log in or call back to check the status of their report.

How does Florida’s Public Records law apply to the Ethics Hotline?

Any information provided to the Clerk & Comptrollers Ethics Hotline is subject to the Florida Open Records Law (see Florida Statute Section 112.3188). The content of your initial complaint is subject to disclosure upon submission, as is the final report of the investigation. Keep in mind, if you did not provide your name and identity in your report, it cannot be part of the disclosure.

Ethics Hotline

Message from
Clerk Bock

Sharon R. BockAs Clerk & Comptroller of Palm Beach County, I am committed to protecting public records and public funds, while safeguarding the standards of ethics and integrity in our community.

Our Ethics Hotline is one weapon in our ongoing fight against fraud, waste, abuse and ethical misconduct. It currently allows our frontline of defense ‑ my office’s 700 employees ‑ to report issues anonymously, if they choose. While regular audits and strict internal controls are built into how we do business, research shows that anonymous tips are another effective means for identifying opportunities for improvement.

At the Clerk & Comptroller’s office, we have an organization-wide commitment to shining the light on ethics.

Sharon Bock, Esq.
Clerk & Comptroller
Palm Beach County