09 July 2019

As a business, you need to adhere to British laws and not take part in any illegal or unethical behaviour—whether you’re a private or public organisation. When businesses do engage in such behaviour, then they can be exposed by employees. You should establish a policy to help staff members discuss wrongdoings when required. And our guide explains how you can go about establishing yours. If you need immediate help with this topic, you can refer to our employment law services for whistleblowing enquiries.

What is whistleblowing in business?

It’s when an employee reports wrongdoing, usually by a business. Only certain types of behaviour qualify—it must be in the interest of the public (in that it affects the general public in some way). The act of reporting a wrongdoing is a “protected disclosure”. To help define whistleblowing in business, employees can raise a concern about activity that’s occurring now, in the past, or that will occur at some point in the future. Whistleblowers receive protection under current British laws. Even if they unveil damaging information about your business, you can’t fire them in response—you also can’t treat them unfairly. Those who receive protection from the law include:

  • Employees such as office workers, NHS staff, police officers etc.
  • Trainees.
  • Agency workers.

Although they receive protection, there’s no legal requirement to protect their confidentiality. However, it’s best practice to maintain confidentiality—especially where requested by staff.

Why is whistleblowing important to business ethics?

It’s essential as it helps to protect your business, as well as your workforce, customers, and reputation. There are only certain types of wrongful activities an employee can report. To make things clearer for you, here are a few business ethics whistleblowing examples:

  • Criminal offences, such as fraud, mismanagement, or corruption.
  • Placing someone else’s health in danger.
  • Damage or risk to the environment.
  • Miscarriages of justice.
  • Breaking the law (such as having no insurance).
  • Covering up unethical or illegal activities.
  • Breaching legal requirements.

There are some issues that don’t class as a protected disclosure. Examples include bullying or discrimination. That’s unless a specific activity relates to the public’s best interests. You can direct your employees to alternative grievance policies in this situation. You should remember that even when a disclosure is untrue (and you can prove this), it doesn’t automatically mean it was an issue a staff member raised with malicious intentions. So the role of whistleblower in business ethics is clear— being open and honest with your employees is essential, as is following through on your procedures. You should look to treat all staff members equally—and with respect. So you have to provide an environment that employees consider a safe and trustworthy working environment. Then they’ll feel like they can come forward without enduring any negative consequences. As such, you should ensure you make it clear your business—and managers, right to the very top—can demonstrate that whistleblowing is promoted in your company culture.

What your policy needs

If you have a clear process in place, then it’ll significantly reduce the risk of being accused of whistleblower discrimination. A whistleblowing policy for small businesses, medium, or large must aim to establish the same goals. That is, employees shouldn’t be seen as being in the wrong (“snitching”) by coming forward to disclose details. A policy is quite lengthy and you’ll require an employment law specialist to complete it for you. But the basics you’ll need to include are:

  • Introduction: Lay out your explanation about your commitments and business transparency. You can explain here how your policy relates to the Public Interest Disclosure Act and how you endorse the provisions established in that.
  • Scope of your policy: Explain what you’re enabling—that employees can come forward to raise concerns internally about malpractice or impropriety (illegal behaviour).
  • Safeguards: This section will explain how employees receive protection when they disclose concerns in good faith or on the reasonable belief that the information shows malpractice or impropriety.
  • Confidentiality clause: Explains that you treat all information with the utmost privacy and in a sensitive manner. The identity of the individual may also remain anonymous. Although the employee won’t receive protection from your disciplinary procedures if they don’t use the whistleblowing procedure.
  • Anonymous allegations: Encourages whistleblowers to put their name to disclosures they make. This is because anonymous claims carry much less weight.
  • Procedures for making a disclosure: Go into detail about how the employee will make their complaint. You can detail the investigative process that follows, as well as a clause explaining other individuals (trained and designated) they can contact you for advice on making a complaint.
  • Timescales: The amount of time you expect the investigation to take, considering variables such as the seriousness of the allegations raised.
  • Investigating procedure: Explain the steps the investigating officer will take to reach a conclusion.

This is a highly important document to get right, so you should refer to a qualified professional to ensure it’s accurate and compliant with British laws.

Need our help?

Whistleblowing is a complex and potentially damaging process for your business. Get immediate assistance with how to establish your policy: 0808 198 7934.

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