Cultivating Whistleblowing Compliance: A Guide for Employers 

Published 29th November 2023

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In the corporate landscape, whistleblowing is a subject that requires the utmost attention, despite its infrequent occurrence in most businesses. Managing whistleblowing incidents correctly is crucial, as it involves legal complexities and implications that can be detrimental if mishandled. In this guide, we will equip your business with the essential knowledge and strategies to navigate whistleblowing effectively.

1. Whistleblowing: The Crucial Importance of Getting it Right

Why is it so vital for your business to handle whistleblowing correctly? The answer is twofold: whistleblowing can be a benefit to your business, and whistleblowers are legally protected. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Positive Impact: Whistleblowing can be a boon for your business as it may bring critical issues to your attention that you wouldn’t otherwise discover. It provides an opportunity to address these problems effectively.
  2. Legal Protections: Whistleblowers enjoy certain legal protections, making it unlawful to retaliate against them. These protections apply from the first day of their employment. Employees must not be unfairly dismissed, subjected to detrimental actions, or harassed because they blew the whistle. Moreover, your business can be held liable for your employees’ actions if they mistreat whistleblowers.

To safeguard your business, it’s crucial to create an environment where employees feel confident and comfortable reporting suspected wrongdoing. Equally important is the appropriate treatment of whistleblowers when they do come forward.

2. Defining Whistleblowing

In essence, whistleblowing refers to an employee disclosing information, typically to their employer, that they reasonably believe reveals certain types of wrongdoing. The employee must also reasonably believe that their disclosure is in the public interest.

These types of wrongdoing encompass a broad range, including:

  • Criminal offences
  • Breach of legal obligations
  • Miscarriages of justice
  • Threats to health and safety
  • Environmental damage
  • The deliberate concealment of information related to any of these issues

It’s important to note that these categories are wide-ranging, and employees may still have whistleblower protection even if their claims turn out to be inaccurate. The key criterion is that employees must have a “reasonable belief” in the wrongdoing, assessed from their perspective.

3. Recognising When an Employee is Whistleblowing

Identifying when an employee is whistleblowing can be challenging. Here are some tips to help you recognise it:

  • Stay alert to various ways whistleblowing can occur, such as verbal reports, emails, letters, or through a dedicated whistleblowing hotline if your business has one.
  • Keep the types of wrongdoing in mind to better identify potential whistleblowing incidents.
  • Seek advice on the specific circumstances you are dealing with if you suspect an employee in your business may be blowing the whistle.

4. The Potentially Costly Consequences of Whistleblowing Claims

Unfortunately, for businesses, whistleblowing claims can be financially burdensome if lost at a tribunal. There is no limit to the amount that can be awarded to an employee who succeeds in a whistleblowing detriment claim. 

Unlike many other types of unfair dismissal, there is no cap on the compensation an employment tribunal can grant to an employee who has been unfairly dismissed for whistleblowing. It’s worth noting that this, in conjunction with the absence of a minimum service requirement, makes whistleblowing claims attractive to employees with short tenure.

Furthermore, the reputational cost of a successful claim can be a significant concern, as employment tribunal judgments are publicly available online.

5. Navigating the Response to Whistleblowing Incidents

When an employee in your organisation takes the courageous step of “blowing the whistle” on perceived wrongdoing, it is paramount to respond with precision and care. Here’s an expanded insight into how your business should respond to whistleblowing incidents:

  1. Immediate Assessment: Upon receiving a whistleblowing disclosure, the initial response should be an immediate assessment of the information provided. This involves scrutinising the details, understanding the nature of the concerns raised, and ascertaining the potential implications for your business.
  2. Protection of Whistleblower: One of the foremost concerns is safeguarding the whistleblower’s rights and interests. Ensure that the individual who reported the wrongdoing is shielded from any form of retaliation or victimisation. Remember, whistleblowers are legally protected, and it is crucial to uphold these protections diligently.
  3. Discreet Investigation: Subsequently, embark on a discreet and impartial investigation into the allegations. It’s imperative to maintain confidentiality during this process to protect the whistleblower’s identity and prevent any undue pressure or intimidation they may face.

FAQs:

  1. What is whistleblowing, and why is it important for businesses to address it correctly?

Whistleblowing is when an employee discloses information that they reasonably believe reveals wrongdoing in the workplace, often in the public interest. Addressing it correctly is crucial for businesses because it can help uncover serious issues that may otherwise go unnoticed. Moreover, whistleblowers are legally protected from retaliation, so mishandling their concerns can lead to legal and reputational consequences for businesses.

  1. What types of wrongdoing can be reported through whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing can involve disclosing various types of wrongdoing, including criminal offences, breaches of legal obligations, miscarriages of justice, threats to health and safety, environmental damage, or the deliberate concealment of information related to these matters. These categories are broad, and employees can have whistleblower protection even if their allegations are ultimately proven wrong.

  1. What are the legal protections for whistleblowers, and how should businesses treat them?

Whistleblowers have legal protections that make it automatically unfair to dismiss them or subject them to detrimental actions because they blew the whistle. These protections apply from the first day of their employment. Businesses should treat whistleblowers with care and ensure they are not victimised or mistreated in any way. Colleagues who victimise whistleblowers may also face personal and vicarious liability.

  1. What are the potential financial implications for businesses if a whistleblowing claim is successful?

Whistleblowing claims can be costly for businesses. Unlike many other types of unfair dismissal claims, there is no limit on the compensation an employment tribunal can award to an employee who has been unfairly dismissed for whistleblowing. Additionally, the reputational cost of a successful claim can be substantial, as tribunal judgments are publicly available online.

  1. How should businesses respond when an employee “blows the whistle” on suspected wrongdoing?

When an employee reports suspected wrongdoing, businesses should respond with immediate assessment, ensuring the whistleblower’s protection, conducting a discreet investigation, and complying with employment laws. Seeking HR expertise to manage the investigation is crucial. Effective communication, corrective actions, documentation, preventative measures, and continuous improvement are also key components of a proper response to whistleblowing incidents.

Conclusion

In conclusion, responding to whistleblowing incidents is a multifaceted process that demands meticulous attention to detail, compliance with legal requirements, and a commitment to upholding the rights of the whistleblower. Seeking professional advice and following a well-structured response plan are vital steps in ensuring your business handles such incidents with the highest level of integrity and effectiveness. To book your free 15-minute consultation with a member of our expert team, contact us today on 0333 996 0666