The catastrophic consequences of ignoring whistleblowing concerns in the workplace

24 July 2018

Whistleblowing is where a worker raises concerns regarding unlawful practices in the workplace in confidence without fear of retaliation or reprimand. Such concerns could include discriminatory practices, fraudulent activity or safeguarding issues.

Staff who voice such concerns have legal protection from being dismissed, or disadvantaged in some way, because they blew the whistle. The disadvantage may arise because of the actions of the employer but also by those of a fellow member of staff for which the employer can still be held liable.

If a worker believes they have been dismissed or disadvantaged because of the concern they raised, they can bring a claim in the employment tribunal. If they win, there is no cap on the amount of compensation that can be awarded to them.

But there are other even more catastrophic consequences of failing to take whistleblowing concerns seriously. 

Ignoring the opportunity to fix something quickly

Listening to staff concerns means critical failures of the organisation can be spotted at an earlier stage and rectified quickly without causing any damage. This could potentially save the organisation thousands of pounds and, in some sectors, even save lives.

Drop in productivity / staff retention

Ignoring concerns over unlawful practices in the workplace or allowing a culture of fear about raising such concerns can have a negative impact on employee engagement and, as a result, productivity. It can also lead to higher staff turnover and increased recruitment costs. 

Regulatory fines and reputational damage

A Barclays’ Chief Executive was recently fined nearly £650,000 by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulatory Authority for breaching rules when he tried to identify a whistleblower. Barclays share price also suffered as a consequence and its reputation was tarnished. 

Actions to take

  • Introduce a whistleblowing policy and make sure it is fit for purpose – it should provide guidance to staff on how to raise workplace concerns, who they can go to for support and reassurance over the confidentiality of the concerns they are raising. The policy should also set out the process for those required to address whistleblowing concerns so that they are aware of their responsibilities and the steps that need to be taken.
  • Staff training – stakeholders (which can also include non-executive directors ) need to recognise what is a personal grievance and what is a whistleblowing disclosure so that they are dealt with appropriately. They also need to understand how to undertake a reasonable investigation, how to maintain confidentiality throughout the process and the steps to take to ensure the whistleblower is kept free from retaliatory acts. 
  • Consider a whistleblowing hotline – this provides an anonymous channel for staff to disclose workplace concerns, encouraging them to speak up and protecting your organisation against the risk of retaliation against the whistleblower. 

If you would like to speak to someone about a whistleblowing policy, staff training or have any concerns about whistleblowing in the workplace, please contact Charlie Barnes.

Charlie Barnes
Charlie Barnes
Director, Head of Employment Legal Services
Charlie Barnes
Charlie Barnes
Director, Head of Employment Legal Services