Whistleblowing guidance and Code of Practice published – what do employers need to know and do?

Written on 24 Mar 2015

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has published non-statutory guidance and a Code of Practice for employers on whistleblowing available here.

So does this new guidance and Code radically change whistleblowing in the workplace? The simple answer is no. But what the Government has done is bring the importance of getting whistleblowing practices right back into the spotlight for every employer, and not just those sectors where media attention is focused. Whilst the guidance and Code provide impetus for employers to dust down their existing policies and procedures, they also highlight the fact that whistleblowing processes do not stop at the black and white letters of a document.  Having the right organisational culture in place is critical to ensuring that staff feel comfortable to make tricky disclosures and managers know how to deal with such issues appropriately and fairly.  Suggestions for achieving this in the guidance include having a whistleblowing champion and also some form of self-monitoring by the organisation (see below). This form of monitoring is something that is likely to be novel to many employers but could well be useful in improving practices and procedures and seeking to demonstate in any future litigation that the organisation is committed to giving any whistleblowing dislcosures careful consideration.

What do employers need to do:

  • Make sure your whistleblowing policy is clear, simple and easy to understand and that it is easily accessible to all workers. The guidance sets out what a whistleblowing policy may include. Amongst other things, it should clearly identify who can be approached by workers that wish to raise a disclosure and provide for alternative persons whom can be approached in case an individual worker is not comfortable with the appropriate person identified in the policy. The policy should manage a whistleblower’s expectations on what feedback they can expect to receive and when.
  • Raise awareness of your policy, ensure it is accessible and provide training to all workers on how disclosures should be raised and how they will be acted upon. The guidance provides suggestions on promoting a policy including appointing a whistleblowers’ champion to drive the commitment “to valuing whistleblowing and protecting whisleblowers within the organisation“.
  • Train managers on how to deal with disclosures. It should be made clear that any detriment towards an individual who raises a disclosure is unacceptable.
  • Word settlement agreements appropriately to ensure public interest disclosures made in accordance with statute are permitted.
  • Create an organisational culture where workers feel safe to raise a disclosure in the knowledge that they will not face any detriment from the organisation as a result of speaking up. Make it clear that all disclosures raised will be dealt with appropriately, consistently, fairly and professionally. Confidentiality should be preserved so far as legally possible.
  • Make sure you have procedures in place for dealing with anonymous dislcosures. They should not be ignored and “will be just as important for organisations to act upon“. The guidance appreciates the challenges employers may face in this respect but suggests that workers should be made aware that an anonymous disclosure may limit the protection available to them as a whistleblower but where an individual wishes to retain anonymity using “telephone appointments” or “an anonymised email address” may assist in this respect.
  • Put in place procedures for monitoring how whistleblowing works within your organisation. The guidance indicates that it will be good practice for an organisation to:
    • record the number of whistelblowing disclosures they receive and their nature;
    • maintain records of the date and content of feedback provided to whistleblowers; and
    • conduct regular surveys to ascertain the satsifaction of whistleblowers.

For further information regarding this new code and guidance and its implications for your current practices and procedures, please do not hesitate to contact your usual OC Contact.