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Employer roundtable: Responding to whistleblowing retaliation

Protect hosted the first of two employer roundtables discussing what more can be done to protect whistleblowers against victimisation.

A mixed group of employers from financial services, media, health, public sector and charity sectors came together to share best practice.

The group discussed what victimisation ‘looks like’ with common forms of victimisation including impossible shift patterns, exclusion from meetings, micro-management, performance reviews, and disciplinaries. Some of this can be quite subtle and hard to pin down – retaliation from colleagues, manifesting in things like exclusion from WhatsApp groups and social events, was flagged as a particular challenge for prevention. 

Victimisation and retaliation can happen without the perpetrator consciously realising this is what they are doing. As one attendee put it: “From a whistleblower’s experience, you can have lots of policies and procedures which is great, but you are dealing with human beings. Human beings are fallible. When you raise concerns, people see it as a criticism and go into a defensive mode. We need to think about this.” 

Attendees discussed the impact of having an active regulator in their sector. In highly regulated sectors, this was seen positively. The risk of sanctions against firms and individuals who don’t deal appropriately with whistleblowing can make it easier internally to get firms to take whistleblowing practice seriously, by pointing to the reputational and financial risks of not doing so. Over time, there have also been positive shifts in focus to looking more practically at how effective whistleblowing policies are.  

Elsewhere, there was felt to be a need for regulators with real teeth, and particularly with expertise and experience in dealing with issues around whistleblowing. Attendees felt that the emphasis had to be on how to ensure whistleblowers felt protected in practice. 

The session is part of a wider project Protect are overseeing with employers, with the next session focusing on the innovative practices in place to protect against retaliation. 

Protect Chief Executive Liz Gardiner said, “We were delighted with the contributions to the roundtable – and very grateful for the experts in so many sectors who gave up their time to join us.  We hope to use the expertise from our members and others to develop best practice guidance which may help all employers support and protect whistleblowers in their organisations”.