What is whistleblowing? And why is it important?
We explain the important topic of whistleblowing. What is it? What’s the procedure? How do employers handle whistleblowing reports from employees?
And what about public interest disclosures or handling malicious allegations? Keep reading to find out.
What is whistleblowing?
The standard definition of whistleblowing is: “a person, often an employee, who reveals information about activity within a private or public organisation that is deemed illegal, immoral, illicit, unsafe or fraudulent”.
Another simple definition from the government website is:
‘You’re a whistleblower if you’re a worker and you report certain types of wrongdoing. This will usually be something you’ve seen at work – though not always.
As a whistleblower you’re protected by law – you should not be treated unfairly or lose your job because you ‘blow the whistle’.’
What is the whistleblowing process?
Most organisations will have confidential reporting processes in place to allow employees to raise any concerns internally. This would be the first opportunity for employers to respond to any issues raised. It’s available to everyone irrespective of length of service or position.
The procedure provides the employee with access to a safe and effective means of reporting matters of genuine concern. This could be something inappropriate about the way they believe the organisation is run. It could be something inappropriate they believe another employee is doing.
How do employers handle reports of this nature?
The employer should acknowledge that it’s never easy to report a concern. This is particularly the case when an employee observes serious misconduct or discovers unlawful acts. However, the organisation should urge the employee to refer such matters at the earliest opportunity. This allows the organisation to respond speedily and effectively before problems worsen. Matters should be dealt with promptly and confidentially.
Why is whistleblowing important?
It’s in the organisation’s best interests to create a safe and healthy work environment that’s inclusive, transparent, and free from any discrimination. It’s important to allow employees to raise concerns and for the organisation to listen to these concerns in a safe and confidential manner. The organisation should encourage:
- A culture of raising concerns to assist employees to feel safe and listened to at work.
- A culture free from bullying and a safe workspace free from discrimination.
- Training – every member of staff should receive training in the approach to raising concerns and in receiving and acting on them.
- Support after raising any concerns and what the next steps can be.
Public interest disclosures
The law provides special protection for ‘public interest disclosures’. This is often referred to as ‘whistleblowing’. It only applies when someone reports something in the public interest:
- A criminal offence
- A miscarriage of justice
- An act creating risk to health and safety
- An act causing damage to the environment
- A breach of another legal obligation we may have
- Concealment of any of the above
Handling malicious allegations
Organisations must have a fair expectation that employees reasonably believe what they are saying to be true. The organisation’s report must be honest and sincere in its intention. If they subsequently discover that the employee made or supported false or malicious complaints, this would be a disciplinary matter and potentially gross misconduct. The penalty for gross misconduct is normally summary dismissal. You can watch our webinar recording to learn more about the different types of misconduct.
Confidentiality and sensitive data
All employment should be in a position of trust and confidence. During an employee’s employment they will inevitably see and use sensitive confidential information and data about people’s relationship with the organisation in which they are employed. This may relate to other employees, clients, suppliers etc. It’s important for them recognise that they are dealing with privileged information.
All employees must not, except in the proper performance of their job or as required by law, disclose confidential information relating to the organisation. This also applies where the organisation must respect an obligation of confidence to anyone else. This is both a legal and contractual obligation. The employee must respect it even after they leave the employment.
Confidential information/data includes but is not limited to:
- Sensitive information/data about other employees and those who undertake work or other activity on an employer’s behalf
- Sensitive information/data about or received from customers, clients, suppliers etc.
- Unpublished financial accounts or statistical data
- Trading or operational procedures, methodology or analyses
- Processes, designs, and products in development or subject to modification