You don’t need to look much further than the current headlines in the mainstream and financial services press to see the importance of an effective whistleblowing framework. The demise of Odey Asset Management serves as a harsh reminder that much more can be done to weed out and address bad behaviour at an early stage no matter where in an organisation it sits. 

Fox & Partners’ research shows that the Financial Conduct Authority has received 43 whistleblower reports relating to sexual harassment within financial services firms in the past five years, showing the Crispin Odey case is far from an isolated incident.  However, misconduct and abuse of power is often overlooked or a blind eye is turned, far too often because it is believed nothing will be done.

Part of the answer has to be legal and regulatory change. A system which enables a lack of accountability at the most senior level is likely to facilitate misconduct.

What is wrong with the current legal framework?

It is widely thought that our current legal framework is not fit for purpose. It is complex and deficient in a number of respects, and could work better and more consistently with regulation to achieve its aims to protect whistleblowers and drive wider social change to encourage whistleblowing.

It is unclear why key classes of person are (or are questionably) unprotected: partners and non-executive directors to name a few. Big business often complain that whistleblowing channels are abused in the absence of other (unfair dismissal) rights. Others criticise that the starting point is all wrong: whistleblowing should not be a workplace right which focuses on redress. It should be a protection for anyone raising concerns in the public interest, which should be better defined. But if you start defining public interest, does that not also start to act as a deterrent for a speak up culture?

What can business do now?

While the law makers start to unravel the issues there are a number of initiatives that employers can take now:

– make support for speaking up a priority in your business

– have a policy to promote a safe channel for raising concerns and drive consistency in the response to concerns raised

– have a robust governance structure. No one should be above reproach and accountability 

– appoint a champion with responsibility for whistleblowing, with appropriate support and protection 

– train everyone so they understand the commitment to managing whistleblowing properly, and in particular train managers to identify disclosures, manage concerns and avoid retaliation

– handle investigations proportionately and give careful consideration as to how separate issues, such as performance and conduct complaints against a whistleblower, should be managed

– follow the lead of the financial services regulator and make retaliation (as well as the misconduct itself) a disciplinary issue (financial services have made significant progress with linking such conduct to fitness and propriety)

You can also have your say on the current state of the framework via the Government’s review.