Blowing the whistle
- Protected Interest Disclosures
Most people are aware of whistle blowing - Neville Thurlbeck, the former News of the World chief reporter has been one of
the latest high profile employees to claim he was a whistleblower. Leaving aside the newspaper headlines, what is whistle blowing
and what might it mean for you and your business?
What is whistle blowing?
Whistle blowing is when a worker or employee makes a qualifying disclosure. A qualifying disclosure is a disclosure which raises concerns about how an employer is conducting their business. It can be written or verbal and needs to be made in good faith.
Concerns that are covered include criminal offences, health and safety issues, failures to comply with legal obligations, miscarriages of justice, damage to the environment and information tending to show that any of these things are being concealed.
A qualifying disclosure can cover not only things that have happened, but things that are likely to happen or are currently happening. For example; it could be that a crime has been committed, is likely to be committed or is being committed, or that evidence of a crime is being concealed.
Qualifying disclosures are usually to be made to the employer or an appropriate "prescribed person". A prescribed person can be a regulatory body like the Health and Safety Executive, or a professional body. There is a list of prescribed persons on the public concern at work website http://www.pcaw.co.uk/. Sometimes a disclosure to the media or police will be covered, but the legislation encourages whistleblowers to go to their employer first unless they have a good reason not to do so.
That all sounds very legal. What does it really mean?
It means that if an employee or worker goes to their employer, or to a prescribed person or an appropriate external person/organisation with a qualifying disclosure the law gives them protection.
If their employer treats them badly because they blew the whistle, the employee or worker could have a whistle blowing claim.
What sort of bad treatment are we talking about?
The law talks about "suffering a detriment". A detriment can be anything that disadvantages the whistleblower. Examples of detriment include; not being promoted (or being sidelined in any way – to a distant regional office or to a type of work), being denied unpaid leave or holiday, being excluded from meetings or company social events and of course, being dismissed.
What if the whistle blower is mistaken?
They still get protection. The key element is good faith– if the person believes there is an issue and raises it in good faith, they are usually protected. In some circumstances, such as where someone makes a disclosure outside their organisation (e.g. to the media), additional requirements apply, for example, the disclosure must not be made for personal gain.
How can we keep our company safe?
You should take any concerns raised very seriously. You should investigate them appropriately and take action if necessary, including reporting to appropriate professional and/or regulatory bodies. For example, an accountant discovering professional misconduct might need to report it to their employer, their professional body and, if it is criminal in nature, potentially to the police. In most situations, the worker/employee would tell the employer, who would then take any further steps necessary.
You could also consider having whistle blowing polices and procedures and providing information and/or training for your workers and employees so they know what to do if they have any concerns.
Whistle blowing is a huge and complex subject.
We covered the basics in our ezine and we're going to
use this podcast to explore a few areas in more depth.
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