Briefing 7.1 - Creating inclusive and dignified workplaces, including safe spaces for reporting and effective mechanisms for seeking redress

5. Setting up and running hotlines and helplines

Hotlines provide an important confidential service for workers experiencing sexual harassment and violence. Hotlines should be confidential and available to support women who need advice. Callers are likely to be vulnerable and emotional, and call handlers should have the necessary training to deal with gender-based violence and employment issues.

Tool  5: Tips on providing hotline services:

  • Give reassurance that the hotline is a confidential service for women and men.
  • Be professional, patient, listening and give compassionate responses to the caller, particularly because the caller is likely to be upset or in distress.
  • Responses should be dealt with in a calm way and advisers should not make judgments or ask inappropriate questions.
  • Give reassurance and information about how the caller can get support, deal with or refer a complaint and/or how to access an appropriate service, for example, from a local trade union or women’s organization.
  • Follow up the call with relevant information about complaints procedures that exist.

Hotline handlers should be trained to deal sensitively with issues concerning sexual harassment and abuse and help workers and other parties to file complaints. It can provide a safety net but is not a substitute for formal workplace complaints handling mechanisms. It may take some time for a hotline to win the confidence of workers. Building trust in the hotline is important. FWF found that many of the early calls to the FWF Hotline concerned sex discrimination – on issues such as pregnancy dismissal. Over time hotlines have become trusted to deal with sexual harassment and abuse issues.

Additional resources and information on setting up and running hotlines

John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Field (2003) Setting up a Hotline.
This provides a step-by-step guide for starting a hotline or enhancing an existing hotline. For further information see:

IOM (2007) Hotline Management in the context of trafficking in persons: A Basic Guide.
The Guide provides guidance on how to assist callers to hotlines and how to monitor and evaluate the hotline.