Whistleblowing in the Workplace

We understand whistleblowing in the workplace can be scary for employers. Sometimes, things don’t always go to plan and employees may have a grievance to raise or wish to report suspected wrongdoing. In this article, we’ll delve into what does whistleblowing mean, explore why employees may raise grievances or concerns, and discuss how employers can prepare for and handle whistleblowing claims effectively.

 

What is whistleblowing at work?

Whistleblowing in the workplace refers to when an employee raises concerns about wrongdoing or malpractice within an organisation. It involves an employee raising issues such as fraud, safety violations, or other illegal activities to their employer or an appropriate authority, often in the interest of protecting the public or addressing violations of laws or regulations.

Whistleblowing plays a critical role in promoting transparency, accountability, and ethical practices within organisations. It helps organisations address and rectify issues to ensure compliance and a safe work environment, and the legal protections around it enable employees to voice concerns without fear of retaliation.

 

What does The Employment Rights Act 1996 say about whistleblowing at work?

The Employment Rights Act 1996 states that wrongdoing must fall within the following criteria:

  • A qualifying disclosure
  • In the public interest
  • Protected disclosure

Let’s delve a little deeper into these.

Qualifying disclosure

The legislation says a “qualifying disclosure” means any disclosure of information which, in the reasonable belief of the worker making the disclosure, tends to show one or more of the following—

(a) that a criminal offence has been committed, is being committed or is likely to be committed,

(b) that a person has failed, is failing or is likely to fail to comply with any legal obligation to which he is subject,

(c) that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur,

(d) that the health or safety of any individual has been, is being or is likely to be endangered,

(e) that the environment has been, is being or is likely to be damaged, or

(f) that information tending to show any matter falling within any one of the preceding paragraphs has been, is being or is likely to be deliberately concealed.”

Public interest

A qualifying disclosure can also be made if the whistleblower believes that it is in the public interest. This will depend on:

  • Who’s affected
  • The nature of the interests
  • The extent to which they’re affected
  • The nature of the alleged malpractice
  • The identity of the wrongdoing

Protected disclosure

The way in which the complaint is disclosed must be made to the correct person and in the right way.

This means that employees must make the complaint to the employer or any other person they believe to be responsible. Or, they can make the complaint to a ‘prescribed person’, which includes regulatory bodies.

 

Getting your processes right

As an employer, getting your processes right when it comes to handling whistleblowing disclosures is vital. That’s where your employee handbook and grievance procedure are key tools that help protect both you and your employees in managing whistleblowing complaints. Your employee handbook should clearly inform the employee what to do if they feel they need to raise a grievance or make a whistleblowing disclosure.

As an employer, there are three key things to keep in mind:

  • Handling whistleblowing complaints fairly and investigating them thoroughly
  • Following the set procedure of the business
  • Keeping the identity of the whistleblower confidential

Employees have a legal right under The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 not to be dismissed or subjected to a detriment as a result of making a whistleblowing disclosure, and the employer will still be liable for any bullying, victimisation or other detriment against the whistleblower from their colleagues. So, it’s important to have guidelines to make clear what is expected and reassure whistleblowers they will not be penalised for doing the right thing.

 

Who’s protected when making a qualifying disclosure?

Most people are protected if they make a whistleblowing disclosure, such as workers, employees, student nurses, police, self-employed doctors and many more. And this starts right from the beginning of employment and extends to even after they leave.

 

What if my business doesn’t have a whistleblowing policy?

If your business doesn’t have a whistleblowing policy, it’s time to put one in place. Don’t wait until it’s too late and a whistleblowing complaint has been made. Having a policy in place means you’re more likely to be ready to handle the situation and have the opportunity to resolve it effectively. Many smaller businesses or SMEs may not have formal whistleblowing policies in place, but establishing one has significant benefits, including:

  • It helps your business to better recognise whistleblowing disclosures
  • Fair and consistent handling of the whistleblowing process
  • Identifying how your employees can raise concerns safely and appropriately. outside of their line managers
  • Reassuring staff that you will listen to and protect whistleblowers, following due diligence.

 

Whistleblowing disclosure tips

Handling whistleblowing at work requires careful attention to protect both employees and the business. So, it’s important to take any disclosure seriously. Doing so shows a commitment to transparency, fairness, and a safe work environment. It also promotes employee trust, showing that their concerns are valued and will be addressed appropriately. By handling disclosures with diligence and respect, businesses can uphold ethical standards, reduce risks, and maintain a positive workplace culture.

Here are some essential tips:

Listening to employee concerns: Actively listen to any concerns raised by employees, showing empathy and understanding.

Evidence collection: Gather and consider all relevant evidence related to the whistleblowing disclosure to ensure a thorough investigation.

Confidentiality: Maintain strict confidentiality throughout the process to protect the identity of the whistleblower and prevent retaliation.

Preventing detrimental effects: Take steps to shield the whistleblower from any adverse consequences that may arise from their disclosure.

Monitoringprogress: Regularly monitor the progress of the investigation to ensure timely and effective resolution.

Processtransparency: Maintain transparency with all parties involved, providing updates on the investigation’s status and outcomes.

Feedback: Offer feedback to the whistleblower on the outcome of the investigation, ensuring they are informed and supported throughout the process.

 

Get your employee procedures in order with our support

At Citation, our Employment Law consultants and HR Consultants are here to provide tailored support and expert advice to help you navigate whistleblowing in the workplace procedures and other HR challenges. With our comprehensive HR services and Employment Law services, you’ll have access to dedicated professionals who can help you handle whistleblowing disclosures fairly and make sure you’re following the correct procedures.

When you partner with Citation, we’re committed to helping you get your business ready for anything. Contact us today to learn more about how we can support your business.

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