There are laws in place to protect us if we blow the whistle. After all, 42% of corporate fraud is uncovered by whistleblowing. So why, then, are people so reluctant to speak out when they witness wrongdoing at work? Is it just because no one wants to be labelled the 'office snitch'?
Why are employees reluctant to blow the whistle?
Research by global whistleblowing hotline provider, Safecall, make for an interesting read:
- 13% of UK respondents have blown the whistle
- 80% of individuals say that the main reason for not blowing the whistle is the fear of legal consequences
- 78% of respondents fear the financial consequences of blowing the whistle
- 45% of individual respondents don't blow the whistle for fear of a bad reputation
There have certainly been reports of whistleblowers being victimised for breaking the silence. As recently as 2018, a British Airways employee who had successfully sued the company for religious discrimination brought further action against the airline after accusing them of penalising her for speaking out.
Fortunately, UK and EU laws protect whistleblowers. People should not be treated unfairly or lose their job because they 'blow the whistle'.
What should you consider before whistleblowing?
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. You will be protected by law if you're reporting any of the above. Anything else is out of scope.
If you think 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 it will happen soon.
2. Only report the right kind of concerns
Your company's whistleblowing channels shouldn't be used as 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, whistleblowing law does not cover personal grievances unless the 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, 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 conclusive evidence of wrongdoing. You're a witness and observer, so don't delay because you want to gather that additional evidence. You may tip off the suspects and thwart the entire investigation.
5. Escalate your concerns to others if needed
If no one believes you, if no action is taken, if 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 protects you from reprisal or unfair treatment. Authorities must handle all reports with confidentiality and sensitivity.
Ultimately, all whistleblowers want is to have their report handled confidentially, protection from any comeback (including being victimised or fired), and to have their report investigated properly.
7. Consider the moral & financial implications
The SEC has now awarded $758 million to 142 individuals in the US since issuing its first award in 2012. But in the UK, there is no such award programme. Often the moral imperative outweighs any financial reward and encourages whistleblowers to act altruistically.
There's a strong case for rewarding whistleblowers. In critical industries (such as health, nuclear, etc.), where the consequences of non-compliance are greatest, it's surely a no-brainer?
Paying whistleblowers could also speed up reporting and uncover wrongdoing more quickly. With nowhere to hide, this would bring about a new era of greater accountability.
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