Whistleblowing isn’t merely something which takes place in organisations like the Government, Royal Family or the BBC. So, should every business have a policy and practical strategies which make it possible for staff to speak up?
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Well, the short answer to that question is legally, no, there is no legal obligation to have a separate policy on whistleblowing. Although it’s worth noting that under the Corporate Governance Code listed companies must have whistleblowing policies in place, or explain why they do not.
However, before you give yourself a big pat on the back and congratulate yourself on finding the answer which means you can ‘tick that off the to-do list’, a word of caution…
…as an employer, there is no doubting that it is best practice to do what you can to create an open, transparent and safe working environment where workers feel able to speak up, and although the law does not require you to have a whistleblowing policy, the existence of one will show your commitment to listen to the concerns of your employees.
By having clear policies and procedures for dealing with whistleblowing, an organisation demonstrates that it welcomes information being brought to the attention of management.
It’s also worth considering that employees are often the first people to witness any type of wrongdoing within an organisation. The information that they may uncover could prevent damage to an organisation’s reputation and/or performance and could even save people from harm or, in the most serious of cases, death; so it’s well worth providing them with formal channels in which they can report their concerns.
There are two main barriers whistleblowers face when considering making a disclosure: the fear of reprisal as a result of making a disclosure and the fear or belief that no action will be taken as a result. So when you are looking at introducing a whistleblowing policy, or if you need to review an existing one, here are some helpful hints on what you should include:
- An explanation of what whistleblowing is and your procedures for handling disclosures
- Signposts to information and advice, such as the guidance from Acas
- A commitment to treat all disclosures consistently and fairly and that you will take all reasonable steps to maintain confidentiality where it is requested – include a statement that covers you in case, by law, you need to break that confidentiality!
- An emphasis that victimisation of a whistleblower is not acceptable and that any instances of victimisation will be taken seriously and managed appropriately
- An explanation about the feedback a whistleblower might expect to receive and that anonymous whistleblowers will not ordinarily be able to receive feedback (it’s also worth explaining that where people exercise anonymity, any action taken could be limited)
- An indication of the time frame for handling any disclosures raised
- Clarification that the whistleblower does not need to provide evidence for you to look into the concerns raised
- A commitment to training employees in whistleblowing law and your policy and procedures
- Clarification that ‘gagging clauses’ in settlement agreements do not prevent employees from making disclosures in the public interest
- Information about whistleblowing to a relevant prescribed person or persons (i.e. where legislation, regulations, standards or local bylaws state that a prescribed person shall be used)
If you need some help drafting a whistleblowing policy, reviewing an existing policy, or would like to discuss the above in more detail, please do get in touch.
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