Have you ever witnessed something that you felt was wrong but didn’t say anything because you were afraid of the consequences, felt you would be ignored or face retaliation?
If so, you’re not alone, and you should consider that this may also happen to your employees.
If an employee spots unlawful or certain unethical behaviour at work that affects others and they choose to raise this with a manager or other organisation, this is known as whistleblowing.
Whistleblowers are fully within their rights to raise concerns over practices and behaviours that they have witnessed if they feel they are in the public interest to do so.
They are protected by law from retaliation by colleagues or you as their employer from being subjected to a detriment or dismissed for whistleblowing under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (as amended by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998).
Read on for more information on whistleblowing including your responsibilities as an employer, what to include in your whistleblowing policy, and how to manage reported misconduct.
What Is Whistleblowing?
At its most basic, whistleblowing is when an employee reports wrongdoing within their workplace.
This can be anything from fraud, environmental damage, miscarriage of justice, corruption, health and safety violations, and attempts to cover any of these scenarios up.
Personal grievances (for example, bullying, harassment, discrimination) are not covered by whistleblowing law unless your particular case is in the public interest.
In some cases, the employee may go to the media or a government agency with their concerns as well or instead of raising them directly with a senior management team member first.
When done correctly, whistleblowing can be an important tool for holding companies accountable for their actions, promoting transparency and ensuring that businesses are operating ethically and safely.
Whistleblowing law is located in the Employment Rights Act 1996 (as amended by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998).
It 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 because they have ‘blown the whistle’.
To protect the rights of your employees, you have a responsibility to ensure that their workplace is free from unlawful activity and retaliation for speaking up.
One way you can do this is by creating a culture of transparency and trust, where employees feel comfortable reporting concerns without fear of retribution.
- By creating an open and supportive environment where you encourage employees to speak up about potential problems and concerns, you help to create a safer and more productive workplace for everyone.
- Employers are required by law to should provide employees with a mechanism for reporting wrongdoing. This can be done through an anonymous hotline or by providing contact information for an outside organisation.
- You should have procedures in place for dealing with whistleblowing reports with a clear policy in place explaining how an employee can make a whistleblowing disclosure.
- You should not treat a whistleblower any differently, or allow them to be treated differently by others because they have raised concerns. If you do so, you are at risk of being accused of unfair treatment and, in some cases, discrimination which could be taken to an employment tribunal.
Fostering a culture of transparency and accountability, and following through on your responsibilities surrounding whistleblowing above means that you will be pro-actively creating a workplace where employees feel valued and respected, and where they can openly voice their concerns without fear of reprisal.
What Can You Do?
- If an employee reports illegal or unethical behaviour to management or a higher authority, you should take appropriate action
- Ensure your management team is trained on how to deal with whistleblowing including any relevant policies or procedures that should be followed to investigate and address any complaints that are raised, as well as having a dedicated whistleblowing policy.
- Having clear policies and procedures in place for reporting misconduct, ensures all staff know the correct process to follow when raising their concerns
- You should take steps to protect whistleblowers from retaliation, such as disciplining employees who engage in retaliatory behaviour, and you shouldn’t treat them any differently for raising their concerns.
- You can encourage employees to come forward with concerns by creating an option for an anonymous reporting system.
What To Do When Misconduct Is Reported
- You should take steps to fully investigate the allegations. This may involve interviewing witnesses and reviewing any relevant documentation.
- Once the investigation is complete, you should begin disciplinary action if there is sufficient evidence of misconduct. This could include anything from a formal warning to dismissal, depending on the severity of the offence.
- In cases of serious misconduct, you may need to contact external organisations, such as the police or regulatory bodies.
- Additionally, employers should take steps to prevent further misconduct from occurring in the workplace. This might involve instituting new policies or procedures, providing training to employees, or increasing supervision.
By taking prompt and effective action, employers can help to prevent further misconduct from occurring and maintain a safe and positive work environment.
Your Whistleblowing Policy
When crafting a whistleblowing policy for your business, several key elements should be included;
- the policy should make it clear that employees are encouraged to report any concerns they have about potential violations of law or company policy.
- the policy should make it clear that employees will not face retaliation for reporting misconduct, especially in the form of termination, demotion or other retribution.
- the policy should explain the process for logging a report, including who staff should contact and how they can raise the complaint anonymously should they wish.
- the policy should spell out the consequences for retaliating against a whistleblower, which could include termination of employment.
- the policy needs to be easily accessible to all employees, clear, and concise.
By including these key components, you can create a whistleblowing policy that will help to create a safe and transparent workplace.
A whistleblower is someone who reports alleged wrongdoing within an organisation to people who have the power to take corrective action.
Whistleblowers can be employees, customers, or citizens who have witnessed something that they believe is unethical or illegal.
In some cases, whistleblowing can result in positive change, such as increased regulation of unsafe products or more transparency in company actions.
In other cases, it can simply help to expose injustice and hold powerful people accountable. Whichever way it goes, whistleblowing is an important part of workplace environments.
Business owners and their human resources departments play a vital role in ensuring that workplaces are fair, safe and lawful.
Talk to us to ensure that you have the tools, knowledge and procedures that you need to create an open and transparent workplace where employees feel able to speak up.