Whistleblowing in the Workplace
Posted by Jane on May 14, 2018
While we may have previously covered the practice of employees wishing to tackle employer malpractice, the ongoing wave of #MeToo and Time’s Up (not to mention the recent events that have put Oxfam in the news…) are highlighting a more personal kind of whistleblowing to address the behaviour of individual colleagues.
Why encourage anyone to blow the whistle?
A number of reasons:
- It’s better for your business’s reputation – this may seem counterintuitive, encouraging people to bring poor behaviour ‘into the light’ but face it, nothing remains hidden forever and if you have an active whistleblowing policy then you, the employer, are part of the solution, looking to improve circumstances for your team (never a bad thing).
- If you do end up in a tribunal (and tribunal claims are up in the wake of fees being abolished), having a whistleblowing procedure (and following it) will go some way to offsetting your vicarious liability as an employer for employee wrongdoings.
- It’s just the right thing to do (unless your employees are more productive feeling powerless and unsupported when it comes to inappropriate workplace behaviour).
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 protects workers reporting malpractice by employers or colleagues. Such reporting counts as a ‘protected disclosure’ and in such cases, anyone dismissed for such a report can claim unfair dismissal (more tribunal action!)
Who can ‘whistleblow’?
According to the legislation, the answer is ‘qualifying workers’, which includes not only employees and workers but also independent contractors and agency staff. The act of whistleblowing involves a qualifying worker disclosing information in the public interest that he or she reasonably believes concerns a criminal offence or breach of legal obligation, a miscarriage of justice, a health and safety risk, a danger to the environment or the deliberate concealment of any of these.
What you need in place
- A whistleblowing policy (the CIPD offers some clear guidance on what such policies should cover, including a clear reporting procedure).
- A culture in which employees feel it’s safe to blow the whistle should they need to.
- Management buy-in – in other words, what the bosses say and do should be in line with the policy because management behaviour always carries more weight than a piece of paper or an email.
Just purse your lips and whistle, that’s the thing…
So, who does the employee need to report to for their ‘disclosure’ to be ‘protected’ in law? There are many avenues: the employer, a third party authorised by the employer (e.g. employers can outsource a whistleblowing hotline), a legal adviser (while taking legal advice on the matter),and for government employees, a minister of the Crown. Going straight to the media may count as a protected disclosure but certain conditions must be met and besides, as a first resort, it’s unlikely to be popular!
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