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Speaking up stops harm, but is good for business too

Protect is a leading authority on whistleblowing. Back in the 90s, Protect (then called Public Concern at Work) lobbied for one of the world’s first whistleblowing laws, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, commonly referred to as PIDA. Back then, whistleblowing was not a concept many understood. Revolutionary at the time, PIDA today is out of date and in need of urgent reform. Newer, more robust legislation such as the EU Whistleblowing Directive takes PIDA as a blueprint, but updates it with more extensive protections. The EU Whistleblowing Directive requires companies with more than 50 employees, as well as municipalities with populations of 10,000 or more, to establish secure and effective reporting systems.

The deadline to adopt the EU Directive requirements was December 17. As of this date a small number of countries (currently five – Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, Malta and Lithuania) have adopted new legislation, 13 have draft proposals issued but of these, only 3 are being discussed in Parliament – France, the Netherlands and now Estonia. The remaining 9 have still not shared draft laws publicly.

A key area where the EU Directive on Whistleblowing has moved beyond PIDA is the recognition that the law should impose legal standards on employers in terms of their whistleblowing arrangements.  In the UK, (outside of regulated sectors health, finance and aviation sectors) there is no universal requirement for employers to have in place a whistleblowing policy and arrangements such as whistleblowing ambassadors, training or an external independent hotline or to investigate serious public interest concerns raised by their staff.

With the UK out of Europe, Protect wants the same robust protections granted to whistleblowers to match the EU Whistleblowing Directive. Its campaign ‘Let’s Fix UK Whistleblowing Law’ seeks three urgent reforms which includes a legal duty on employers to introduce whistleblowing arrangement. Research by YouGov  commissioned by Protect  found 76% of UK workers want to see all employers have whistleblowing standards in place and 80% agreed employers should face sanctions for breaching those standards.

Protect has identified 3 key urgent reforms of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1988:

  • Protection of more people: many groups of people working in the UK are excluded from whistleblowing legal protection, and we need stronger protections.

 

  • Standards for employers: all employers should be required to meet standards for whistleblowing and follow recognised procedures. Tougher enforcement against employers is needed for those who fail to listen or who treat whistleblowers badly.

 

 

The benefits of a strong whistleblowing culture are well documented – Protect’s report ‘Workplace Whistleblowing: Why we need a legal duty on employers’ outlines for example, how higher rates of occupational fraud are detected by whistleblowers over internal audit.

The message Protect wants to get across is that even with tougher compliance rules and legislation in place – whistleblowers can and are still being victimised for speaking up.   Protect are working on a project with its employer members to explore best practice and innovation around whistleblower victimisation prevention. The guide will be produced in Spring 2022.

Protect’s Business Development Director Jon Cunningham, who oversees Protect’s employer engagement, training and consultancy work, said: “There continues to be a gap between what whistleblowing policies, arrangements and support systems promise to workers, and the experience of those that raise concerns. Whistleblowing rules and improved legislation on their own cannot guarantee standards will improve. We need employers to ensure they are listening and taking action to those concerns being raised and that they are not ignoring or victimising whistleblowers.”

Protect said often the act of whistleblowing becomes so much more and an organisation can act defensively and shift its focus onto the whistleblower instead of dealing with the concern raised.

Another common pitfall is relying on a policy on an intranet and thinking that will be enough.

Jon added, “A common error is organisations simply not understanding the depth required to really see results. It is much more effort than just having a policy. To make sure organisations are engaging with staff and ensuring there is no disconnect with employees and promoting a healthy transparent top down whistleblowing culture requires work, regular training, strong promotion and comms, and feedback to whistleblowers.”

 Getting whistleblowing right

  • Getting it right means others will have confidence in coming forward
  • Getting it wrong can also be damaging for employer – reputational/financial risks and regulatory intervention/Employment Tribunal cases
  • Getting it wrong also destroys trust inside and outside the organisation
    – victimisation of whistleblowers, and a failure to deal with it can destroy any other work that is done to create a whistleblowing system
  • Effective whistleblowing arrangements can protect employers’ finances and reputation and demonstrates good corporate governance.
  • Move away from the ‘its compliance – we have to do it’ approach and truly embrace and put in place an authentic and values based whistleblowing culture
  • Where employers have a good speak-up culture, they reap the rewards of higher engagement from their workforce: positive cultures can improve innovation and productivity as well as staff wellbeing and loyalty.