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Whistleblowing: guidance for employers

What is whistleblowing?

Using UK law as an example, a disclosure should be in the public interest and should show past, present or likely future wrongdoing falling into one or more of the following categories:

  • endangering of someone’s health and safety
  • damage to the environment
  • failure to comply with an obligation set out in law
  • criminal offences (such as fraud)
  • miscarriages of justice
  • covering up wrongdoing in the above categories.

Why should employers take whistleblowing seriously?

Put simply, it protects your business, your customers, your employees, your reputation and, ultimately, your bottom line. An effective whistleblowing policy can be the most productive early warning mechanism to identify issues that could cause significant loss. Not only can it provide early warning, but it also:

  • enables critical information regarding problems to reach the people in the organisation who can and need to address the issue
  • deters wrongdoing in the organisation
  • reduces the risk of anonymous, damaging leaks to the media
  • demonstrates to stakeholders, regulators and others that the organisation takes the issue seriously and is accountable
  • demonstrates that the organisation is run on ethical lines
  • helps demonstrate compliance with other legislation, such as the UK’s Bribery Act and Modern Slavery Act.

A well-known consumer brand lost 75-80 per cent of its value when news of a significant fraud broke in the media. One of the reasons cited by the employee who went to the media was the lack of adequate internal procedures to report his concerns.

Advice for UK employers

Employees of UK organisations or who are based in the UK who do make a genuine whistleblowing disclosure (known as a “protected disclosure” under the relevant legislation) are protected from detrimental treatment from their employers as a result of their disclosure. It’s important to distinguish a whistleblowing claim from an employee grievance, for which the IET recommends employers have a separate, equally transparent and robust procedure.

Where can employers find further information?

The UK government has published useful guidance [PDF, 637KB], including the elements of an effective whistleblowing policy. Employers in other jurisdictions should take local advice, but note the IET’s overarching guidance that all employers should have procedures in place.