Posted on: 15 February 2021

Why should you encourage whistleblowing at your business?

In a business environment, a whistleblower is a person who reports certain types of wrongdoings which could be putting others at risk. The results of a “blown whistle” must be in the interest of a wider group of people, and not solely for the whistleblower themselves although they may themselves also be affected.

Whistleblowing can be an important part of keeping people safe at work, and people who report wrongdoings are protected by law and should not experience any detriment for doing so. Carry on reading to find out why whistleblowing is so important.

Who can be a whistleblower?

Anyone can “blow the whistle” on safety issues, but to be protected under law, you need to be:

  • An employee, such as an office or factory worker
  • A trainee, such as a student nurse or apprentice
  • Working as part of an agency
  • Part of a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

You should also be aware that if you have signed a non-disclosure, confidentiality clause or “gagging clause” as part of a settlement agreement, you may not be protected by the law as a whistleblower.

Which whistleblowing actions are protected

Actions that are protected

Not all whistleblowing actions are protected under law. The ones that are protected include:

  • Reporting of a personal criminal offence, such as:
    • Fraud
    • Bribery
    • Corruption
  • If someone’s health and safety is compromised
  • Damage, or risk of damage, to the environment
  • A miscarriage of justice
  • A company breaking the law, such as:
    • Not paying minimum wage
    • Data Protection breaches
    • Health and safety laws
    • Inadequate insurance in place for liabilities
  • Covering up a wrongdoing

Actions that may not be protected

Personal grievances, such as bullying,  harassment and discrimination are unlikely to be protected by whistleblowing law and should be reported under a workplace grievance policy. If a complaint has been brought to your attention via whistleblowing incorrectly, do not ignore it but investigate it under the appropriate policy.

A personal grievance may be protected under whistleblowing law however if your case is in the public interest.

Why is whistleblowing important for businesses?

Whistleblowing can have severe consequences for businesses but is there to improve practices and make workplaces safer. Take a look at some of these reasons why whistleblowing is important at your business.

Workplace trust and confidence

By promoting a culture of protection for whistleblowers, your team will have more trust that you are an employer who is looking out for their best interests.

Employees should feel as though they can approach their managers openly to report an observation that they have made. Starting a whistleblowing process should be the last resort if a problem isn’t being addressed, so training your managers on dealing with observations that could potentially lead to a whistleblowing process is vital.

Protecting those who are reporting wrongdoings will make you seem more honest, approachable and willing to listen to your team to make the workplace better.

Stamping out malpractice

As a business owner, you will have a good overview of your business, but you may rely on other members of your team to run certain aspects of business operations, that you may not have the time, knowledge or skills, to sort out yourself.

If the person running aspects of the business that you lack expertise in is acting unlawfully or in a way that could bring disrepute to your business, a whistleblowing policy can help to uncover their activities.

Discourage other grievances

Although reporting individual grievances might not be protected by whistleblowing laws, having a whistleblowing policy in place might encourage your team to speak up about other grievances.

A whistleblowing policy sends a message around your business that reporting poor practices and behaviours is ok, which may, in turn, give your team the confidence to report bullying, discrimination and harassment.

Insight from the experts:

We spoke to Sally Bendtson, HR Consultant at Limelight HR, to find out more about the importance of whistleblowing in the workplace.

“First and foremost, employers need to create a safe environment, where employees feel confident in flagging issues. There are numerous ways to do this, and a whistleblowing policy can be a great place to start. You’re not legally obliged to have a policy in place, but if you do it will show you are committed to the safety of your employees and clients, and transparent about how you intend to achieve this. An off the shelf policy may be helpful, but a bespoke policy will be more effective. There is no one size fits all, and if the policy doesn’t align to your company’s tone of voice and way of working, then it is unlikely that your employees will trust it enough to use it.

There are well-publicised cases of corporate scandal that could have been avoided if employees had not felt scared to speak out. Fear of consequences for the whistleblower is the number one reason why people do not act when they see poor practices or wrongdoing. It is the business’s responsibility to create an open and supportive workplace culture, and Management need to be accessible and trustworthy. Consider whether you have built that trust with your employees and how you can develop it further. Is it easy for your staff to directly contact senior leaders, and are they regularly encouraged to do so? If not, it is unlikely they will want to come forward with information, which could be disastrous for you as a business.

Remember that the whistleblowing policy should sit alongside your grievance, bullying and harassment policies and won’t be as effective if the rest of your policies aren’t up to date. Together these processes outline a structure and your expectations and create a culture where your employees will feel comfortable speaking up. Talk positively about your stance on whistleblowing, publicise the policy and make it accessible in several formats and ensure the management team are aligned to it so they can lead by example. This, in turn, will help to make you a trusted employer of choice, with staff who are actively invested in protecting your business interests and activities.”

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