Whistleblowing in the workplace
Whistleblowing in the workplace
Posted by Stuart Falconer • August 3, 2021

Last week, I watched a film about a whistleblower. She’d told a secret in order to save lives. It was a great film and it made me think about all the cases of whistleblowing in the workplace I’ve dealt with over the years.

In this blog I’ll explain what ‘whistleblowing’ means and paint a picture of what it looks like. I’ll also tell you how whistleblowing should be reported and dealt with correctly.

What is whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing is the term used when a worker passes on information concerning wrongdoing. It’s also referred to as ‘making a disclosure’ or ‘blowing the whistle’. The wrongdoing is likely to be something they have witnessed at work.

A ‘whistleblower’ is a person who exposes information or activity within a private, public or government organisation that is deemed illegal, illicit, unsafe, or a waste, fraud or abuse of taxpayer funds.

Examples of whistleblowing in the workplace

I once advised on a case where an employee had concerns about her employer. She doubted whether they were complying with regulations implemented by the industry’s governing body. To the best of her knowledge, she believed that her employer was breaking the rules. This is bad enough in itself, but to make it worse, they were putting the public’s safety at risk.

On another occasion, when I worked in the public sector, a whistleblowing complaint was made against a manager. The manager needed some work doing and had the agreement of their manager to pay for the work to be outsourced to an external consultant. The manager had then passed the work to a friend of his without following a fair process of recruitment. A colleague recognised them as friends and blew the whistle.

These employees were dealing with high levels of anxiety. Holding your employer, or peer, to such accountability is scary, but the whistleblowers’ dedication to their role was admirable.

Why do whistleblowers get the short end of the stick?

The one thing that whistleblowing cases tend to have in common is the inability of the employer to accept any sort of criticism or responsibility for their actions. To do so would be an acknowledgement that they were at fault, that they had failed in their duty to deliver the expected service. No one likes to be criticised and especially not by someone they perceive as more junior. It is for this reason that many whistleblowers get treated like pariahs.

Why do employees become whistleblowers?

So, why would someone feel the need to whistleblow? Basically, they reach a place where, due to the extreme nature of a wrongdoing, this is the best option open to them. The employee may have raised the issue before but had it brushed under the carpet by management.

I learnt my HR trade in the NHS and it became apparent to me that the majority of line managers in the hospital never expected to be in that role. They had been promoted purely because they were next in line. It wasn’t uncommon for a lot of these managers to struggle with people management. They found it difficult to develop the soft skills required to actively engage with their staff on a daily basis.

I talk to my clients all the time about engaging with the workforce and being empathetic to what is going on in their lives. It provides employees with a safe space to share concerns. This is really important when it comes to issues around whistleblowing in the workplace.

Where possible, whistleblowers should have their anonymity protected and be reassured by their employer that they will not be treated unfairly. If you are unable to provide a safe space for staff to share concerns with you or you don’t possess the soft skills to empathise with them, how can you be surprised when an employee feels that blowing the whistle is the only route open to them?

Getting to grips with whistleblowing policies and procedures

There is some excellent information on the Government website to get further advice on whistleblowing for employees.

Make sure you’re fully aware of the implications of whistleblowing and have the correct policies and procedures in place. If you deal with a whistleblowing complaint correctly, you’re likely to have a loyal employee for life. Plus, you’ll be demonstrating to all your other staff how seriously you take complaints. Putting a policy in place shows your employees it’s a safe environment to speak out and that’s incredibly important.

An employer should be delighted that someone has pointed something out to them that they didn’t know about. This should improve the performance of the business and the culture should also benefit as a result.

How can we help?

Morgan Thomson HR can help you create and introduce a whistleblowing policy. We can also support you in educating your staff so that everyone has an understanding of the policy and its implementation.

If you’ve got any questions about whistleblowing policies and procedures or how to approach a whistleblowing in the workplace incident professionally, please feel free to email me at Stuart.Falconer@morganthomsonhr.co.uk or pick up the phone for a chat: 0345 095 0139.