What is whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing is a term used when an employee passes on information of something they have witnessed in the workplace that relates to wrongdoing, i.e. exposing information or activity that may be illegal, unethical or incorrect; this is commonly referred to as ‘making a disclosure’ or ‘blowing the whistle’.
Often individuals can be wary in coming forward with information due to fear of any backlash or that their concerns will just be ignored. Whistleblowing is covered by the Employment Rights Act 1996 legislation (as amended by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998) which was changed in 2013 to introduce new requirements for disclosures.
The Act also provides the right for a worker to take a case to an employment tribunal if they have been victimised at work or they have lost their job as a result of blowing the whistle.
So how do you spot a potential whistleblowing situation is being raised?
In order to receive protection under the legislation, when making a disclosure an individual should have reasonable belief that the information they are raising:
a) Is in the public interest. This is key as to whether the disclosure is seen as qualifying under the Act. Complaints or grievances of a personal nature are not usually covered and should be handled through normal internal procedures.
b) Shows past, present or likely future wrongdoing as being categorised within one or more of the following:
Criminal offences, e.g. fraudulent activity
Failure to meet legal obligations
Miscarriages of justice
Endangering individual(s) health and safety
Covering up wrongdoing in any of the above categories
If an issue is raised, always consider whether it fits these two areas or whether it should be handled under your usual grievance policies.
As an employer, what are your obligations?
Having an open and honest culture where individuals feel able to freely raise concerns in the workplace is a good place to start. Whilst presently it is not a legal requirement to have a specific policy in place, it shows that the management team within your business are willing to listen to your employees and take and act upon concerns that they may have.
You should be willing to act on concerns that may be raised to you. Often information may have been completely in your blindsight and be very valid. It’s good practice to have several points of contact within senior management who can be approached who will then be proactive in swiftly investigating the situation and taking appropriate action.
Whilst you don’t need to make a big song and dance about it, it is important that individuals know where to locate the policy (if you have one), who they can speak to and how they can make a disclosure. This information should be freely available, perhaps on an internal intranet or referenced on noticeboards. It is also good practice to ensure you train all those within your company about the whistleblowing law and the company policy. You might want to cover this in brief at induction and consider refresher training from time to time, particularly within your management team so they know how to recognise what is a whistleblowing disclosure compared to a normal grievance/complaint.
Should someone raise information you should manage their expectations at the time as to when or whether they will receive feedback. This is an important step in ensuring that the individual does not feel as though their concerns have been ignored or swept under the carpet but also allows the business to remedy any wrong doing and feedback and should avoid the issue being raised to an external third party. If an anonymous disclosure is made, feedback is not usually given.
What are the key things to include in a policy?
Depending on the size of your business you may choose to have a stand alone policy or refer to whistleblowing procedures within your code of conduct. Your policy should include:
A definition of what whistleblowing is
A clear explanation of the company’s procedure for handling disclosures and reassurance that disclosures will be handled consistently and fairly
Set out what reasonable steps will be taken to maintain the confidentiality of the whistleblower where it is requested (unless required by law to break that confidentiality)
Explanation of what feedback a whistleblower might receive and that anonymous whistleblowers will not ordinarily be able to receive feedback and that any action taken to look into a disclosure could be limited – anonymous whistleblowers may be able to seek feedback through a telephone appointment or by using an anonymised email address e) Indication of the time frame for handling any disclosures raised
Clarify that the whistleblower does not need to provide evidence for investigation to be made into the concerns raised
Information about the appropriate point of contact to make their disclosure to or facility to make anonymous disclosures i.e. a dedicated phone line/mailbox.
Highlight that any so-called ‘gagging clauses’ in settlement agreements do not prevent workers from making disclosures in the public interest
Affirm that victimisation of a whistleblower will not be tolerated and that any instances of victimisation will be taken seriously and managed appropriately
Not handling whistleblowing issues swiftly and effectively can have a really damaging effect on your business in financial terms and in damaging the relationships you have with your employees if you are seen to ignore concerns that they raise to you.
If you would like support in getting a suitable whistleblowing policy in place or a review of your existing policy, then we can help. Get in touch with us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note our blog posts contain general information and are intended as guidance only and should not be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. Please ensure that you obtain advice tailored to your individual situation before taking action. These posts apply to the UK only.