Whistleblowing claims are notoriously complex and should be treated with a keen diligence and ultimately, with a great deal of caution. As a business owner, you may have a lot at stake if a report is made and therefore you should thoroughly investigate any such allegations as soon as possible.
Your employees are the eyes and ears within your workplace, so it is important to foster a culture where individuals feel confident and supported in respect of the reporting of any potential wrongdoing, without fear of prejudicial consequences.
Individuals are afforded protection from dismissal or reprimand if they:
- Are an employee of your business;
- Believe they are acting in public interest by reporting the malpractice; and
- Believe the information they have is evidence of past, present or future wrongdoing.
Having a clear and robust whistleblowing policy in place to handle reports of malpractice and investigate the allegations will assist in the minimising of risk. It also shows that, as an employer, you are open to receiving such reports and are prepared to handle them correctly. This encourages transparency and fosters an open and collaborative culture.
Although it is not a legal requirement to have a whistleblowing policy, it is highly recommended. When a disclosure is made, you will then be able to consistently follow the same procedure and treat each employee consistently and fairly.
Whistleblowing policies are usually tailored to each business based on their size and the services offered. A tailored and bespoke policy drafted to suit your organisation is crucially important. Whether the policy is for your organisation as a whole or for localised workplaces, it should be clear, concise and easily accessible to every employee.
You should also always provide regular training on whistleblowing, explaining what it is, how it should be reported and how the business will handle it. Occasionally, whistleblowing allegations may be personal grievances the employee has, and they should be directed to the correct procedure in this event. Careful consideration is always required.
Handling a Whistleblowing Disclosure
Whilst the whistleblowing policy sets out the procedure that should be followed when an employee blows the whistle, an initial view should be taken in order to decide whether or not an investigation is warranted. If the employee blows the whistle to someone within your organisation, you should hold a meeting with the employee in order to determine the appropriate course of action. These meetings should be documented and referred to throughout the course of investigation.
Employees may feel unable to make disclosures to people within your organisation and may take the claims to prescribed persons such as MPs or regulated bodies which have their own sets of policies and procedures. Making a disclosure to such a person will allow the employee to retain their legal protection, but if they were to go to the media with such claims, it is likely that they will lose their rights.
Throughout the process, you should be careful to not be discriminatory towards the whistleblower and to always treat them fairly. To do otherwise is to increase the risk of the whistleblower making a claim for unfair dismissal at the Employment Tribunal.
Although it is not a requirement to maintain the anonymity of the employee who blew the whistle, it is recommended that you keep the individual and their claim confidential.
If an employee feels they have been treated unfairly as a result of blowing the whistle on some form of conduct or practice, that individual may choose to make a claim at the Employment Tribunal. If this does happen, consideration should be given to early conciliation through ACAS, in order to try and avoid going to Employment Tribunal, which can be time consuming, costly and reputationally damaging. For more information on Employment Tribunals, click here.
If the dispute cannot be resolved and you do end up going to Employment Tribunal, your employee may choose to seek interim relief as a short-term remedy. If the Tribunal accepts this claim, it can make an order that the employer continues to employ the individual, or at least continue to pay their salary, up until the final hearing. This can be very costly and difficult for employers, especially as they are unable to recover the payments regardless of the outcome of the final hearing.
We have enormous experience of handling whistleblowing cases, treating them with the attention that they require and in guiding employers through the whole process. Whether you need assistance with drafting a whistleblowing policy and/or resisting an application for interim relief claim, we are able to deploy our expertise in the optimum way required to protect you and your business.
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