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Whistleblowing And Why It Matters For Your Business

What is whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing is when a worker reports wrongdoing, it’s when they come forward and share their knowledge on something that’s not right in an organisation or a department they’re working in. Whistleblowing mainly applies to the workplace, but it can also relate to things that happen outside of the workplace.

Whistleblowing is intended to protect people in general from things that aren’t right or that aren’t in the public interest. Whistleblowers might call time on the likes of fraud, corruption, or indeed anything else that they deem to be misleading or potentially dangerous to the public at large.

Whistleblowers can come from inside an organisation or outside. Not surprisingly, those from within are called internal whistleblowers and from outside external whistleblowers. Internal whistleblowers tend to spill the beans on wrongdoings and report them within organisations and external whistleblowers report to people outside of the organisation, such as the police, the media or government officials.

Where does it originate from?

According to various sources, the origins of whistleblowing in the UK relate back to the use of whistles to alert the public or a crowd about a bad situation such as someone committing a crime or breaking the rules in a game.

Whistleblowing in the workplace started to be discussed in the public domain in the late 1990s. The Public Disclosure Act 1998 and the Public Interest Disclosure (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 were the significant pieces of legislation prior to the introduction of whistleblowing. The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL – the Noland Committee) and Public Concern at Work (PCaW) were active in the early development of legislation, fuelled by a series of scandals that had happened in the 1980s and 1990s.

How does whistleblowing affect you as an employer?

When it comes to whistleblowing, you have certain obligations as an employer. They centre around a belief that your workers’ views are valuable and that your workforce can act as useful eyes and ears in your business. Creating the right culture to give employees the confidence to blow the whistle is clearly important, as is providing training and support to line managers and their teams.

Whistleblowing in business is all about being able to respond, being in control and being able to resolve wrongdoing effectively and efficiently. While you’re not currently obliged to have a policy in place for whistleblowing, the one thing we know about policies and procedures is that they help everyone be clear on what to do when certain things happen. In the ideal situation, even as a small business owner, you will have clear guidelines on what happens when a whistleblower makes a wrongdoing accusation.

Here are some good pointers that you may find useful:

  • Make it clear to your workforce what whistleblowing is.
  • Let your employees know how your company will deal with whistleblowing.
  • Train workers on whistleblowing law and your company’s approach to it.
  • Be fair and consistent.
  • Respect confidentiality.
  • Outline the procedures you will go through if and when a whistleblower reports a wrongdoing.

How does it affect your employees?

As a business owner you are likely to want a culture where unlawful or unethical conduct is unwelcome. The problem is that you can’t be everywhere all of the time. This is where your employees become incredibly valuable to you. It is therefore a good idea to make it known to your workforce that you value the role they play in helping you protect the culture, legality and ethics of your company.

Employees should be aware that they have the right to report misconduct that is potentially harmful to the company or people who work there. They should also be made aware that neither they, nor their position will be put at risk by doing so. As a worker they should be clear that they are protected by law if they blow the whistle on a criminal office; report that someone’s health and safety is in danger; that a risk of or actual damage to the environment exists; that there has been a miscarriage of justice; that a company is breaking the law or that someone is covering up wrongdoing. There should be no fear in making these things known.

Where did whistleblowing all go wrong?

While the global notion of whistleblowing is understood by most people, the reality is that few people truly understand what it means to them. What’s more, the regulatory framework of whistleblower protection in the UK is far from ideal.

The issues start with the definition of whistleblowing itself, which is incredibly narrow. Add to this that there is no obligation for public or private organisations to have a whistleblowing policy in place and you see where the problems begin. The whole practicality around whistleblowing is complicated, steeped in legal complexity and fragmented.

Many employees worry that they’ll get attacked in some way for blowing the whistle and employers know this. In many cases, this results in a stalemate where little, if any real improvement has been made since its introduction.

What can you do to protect yourself and your employees?

As an employer, it’s in your interests to do the right thing in respect of your employees’ welfare as well as in the interest of your business. It is therefore usually worth going the extra mile and making it clear that you have a culture that encourages workers to blow the whistle if there is a need. The best place to start this journey is with a policy. It needn’t be complicated, and it can be communicated easily to staff during induction programmes and regularly through your intranet or via a staff newsletter. Trade Unions can also be helpful, and ongoing whistleblowing training is essential to keep things fresh.

But the reality is, you’ve got a business to run. There is no obligation to do any of this, so why should you? The bottom line is that the more you encourage an open and transparent culture, the better staff you’ll attract and the more likelihood you will have of retaining them. This is important to most successful businesses.

Finding the time to do some of the things you’d like to do but are not obliged to do is never easy. Lots of business owners are finding that outsourcing is the way to get things done that they never seem to get around to. We recently wrote an article on outsourcing payroll and how it makes great sense.

If you’re interested in outsourcing your payroll to free you or your people up to do more of the “nice to have” things in your business, get in touch. We’re here to help.

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