You can listen to Foxed? – our latest podcast on this topic here.

Whistleblowing is universally acknowledged to be a force for positive change in the workplace. Whistleblowers alert organisations to wrongdoing and help to drive change for the better. Yet, we continue to see whistleblowers pushed out as often as they are celebrated. How does an organisation create a culture that recognises whistleblowers as assets?

In this blog we explore some key ways in which a “speak-up” culture can be fostered. It focuses on prevention of whistleblowing disputes, which often involve significant (financial and non-financial) cost, for the benefit of all. 

  1. Don’t ignore the psychology and emotional reactions likely to be at play when disclosures are made. Limit reactive decision-making by having policies in place to promote and manage disclosures
  2. A good policy can help navigate the common pitfalls for employers where disclosures are made, such as a feeling that complaints are not being taken seriously or handled confidentially. The policy should:
    a. be simple and clear in its message that raising concerns is encouraged and that learning when things go wrong is a business priority;
    b. provide examples of concerns which should be raised; 
    c. set out secure channels for making disclosures;
    d. stress that the business has no tolerance for retaliation;
    e. describe how disclosures will be handled, including how the business will deal with malicious allegations, to demonstrate the business’ commitment to doing the right thing. 
  3. Look for opportunities to “pause”, reflect on and acknowledge where things have gone wrong and how they will be improved going forward.
  4. Where a grievance arises, it is good practice to have separate policies for whistleblowing and grievance issues. However, it is useful to make clear how they will run together where relevant.
  5. A policy alone is not enough. Ensure the business’ message to support whistleblowers is lived and breathed by those at the top of the organisation, who must be held to account if their actions run contrary to it. 
  6. Appoint a champion to take overall responsibility for whistleblowing arrangements and ensure they have access to advice in relation to the discharge of their duties.  
  7. Training will assist in signalling a business’ commitment to managing whistleblowing properly and maximise awareness of policies. Senior people, who are most likely to be the recipient or subject of complaints, should be provided with bespoke training in order to minimise the risks of not identifying disclosures, dismissing concerns without proper consideration or taking retaliatory steps.
  8. Investigations should be handled in a proportionate manner. Consideration should be given in response to disclosures as to what is required, for example:
    a. Is an external or internal independent team necessary?
    b. What experience should the investigator(s) have?
    c. What is the scope of the reference? 
    d. How any investigator(s) will communicate with any witnesses? Witnesses must understand their confidentiality obligations and there will need to be consideration as to how the business intends to keep the whistleblower, together with other stakeholders, in the loop to avoid misunderstandings.
  9. In regulated sectors, thought needs to be given to regulatory requirements regarding reporting and any rules relating to the management of disclosures. In financial services, assessment of fitness and propriety and the involvement of the regulator will need to be kept under review. Careful consideration should be given to the risks of tactical threats regarding the involvement of the regulator, including likely escalation of disputes. 

By Eleanor Diamond

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