Editors note: This blog post was originally published in May 2017 but has since been updated for optimal relevance.
Whistleblowers play a vital role in companies - raising the alarm on wrongdoing, law-breaking, corporate negligence and malpractice, crime, and safety issues. 42% of corporate fraud is uncovered by whistleblowing.
There are laws in place to protect us if we blow the whistle. So why then are people so reluctant to speak out when they witness wrongdoing at work?
Maybe they are scared of not being believed or taken seriously? Or are concerned about future treatment? After all, no-one wants to be labelled the 'office snitch'.
Some may worry about reprisals or losing their job. There have certainly been reports of whistleblowers being victimised for breaking the silence. Just last year a British Airways employee who had successfully sued the company for religious discrimination brought further action against the airline after she accused them of penalising her for speaking out.
Fortunately, whistleblowers are protected by law. People should not be treated unfairly or lose their job because they 'blow the whistle'.
But do your staff know everything they should about blowing the whistle?
6 things for staff to consider before making that call:
1. Make sure you have a valid case
Whistleblowing is only meant for reporting criminal offences, regulatory breaches, health and safety (including environmental) breaches, or cover-ups. If you're reporting any of the above, then you will be protected by law. Anything else is out of scope.
If you're thinking that it might be too late to report a concern, be assured that you can raise it at any time, whether it's about an incident that happened in the past, is happening now, or you believe will happen in the near future.
2. Make sure you're reporting the right kind of concerns
Your company's whistleblowing channels shouldn't used an outlet to air grievances or make false reports. If you have a complaint about your manager or colleague, your workload, a third party or some other issue, it's covered by your grievance procedures so raise it with your manager or HR instead.
Ultimately, personal grievances are not covered by whistleblowing law, unless the particular case is in the public interest.
3. Check the approved channels
Your company handbook should explain how to make a report and to whom. In most cases, your first port of call will be your manager, but you may also be encouraged to report to HR, Compliance, Legal, senior management or the board, via a whistleblowing helpline, website or email, or to an independent third party. Going straight to the media or putting it online may undermine the message and damage your reputation - think Edward Snowden, the whistleblower and former CIA agent who leaked classified!
4. Remember you're a witness, not an investigator
You're not there to gather inconclusive evidence of wrongdoing. You're a witness and observer so don't delay because you want to gather that extra evidence. You may just tip off the suspects and thwart an investigation.
5. Escalate your concerns to others if needed
If you're not believed, if no action is taken or there's a cover-up, or if lives are at risk, then it's OK to escalate your concerns to others (such as the CEO, the Police, a regulator, or even sometimes the press).
6. Remember that the law is designed to protect you
Anyone can blow the whistle if they suspect wrongdoing or unethical behaviour. And though it isn't easy, the law is designed to protect you from reprisal or unfair treatment. All reports must be handled with confidentiality and sensitivity.
Ultimately, all whistleblowers want is to have their report handled confidentially, to be protected from any comeback (including being victimised or fired), and to have their report investigated properly.