A whistleblowing policy is a set of principles that give guidance on how to report wrongdoings in the workplace. It’s an important document that allows employees to share concerns and come forward with information about internal processes and behaviour, ensuring that misconduct gets identified and reported as soon as possible.
From a safeguarding perspective, a whistleblowing policy gives instructions on what staff should do if they discover behaviour or actions that they think are putting a child or vulnerable adult they work with at risk. Making a complaint or reporting one of your coworkers can be difficult, especially if they are in a more senior position, but the policy outlines a procedure to follow that makes the process much simpler.
In this article, we cover the concept of whistleblowing, why it is an important process and explain what should be included in a whistleblowing policy.
Whistleblowing is the act of disclosing information about something happening in your workplace that you believe is wrong. This could be the inappropriate behaviour of an employee, illegal activity regarding money or personal data, or a process that you believe is causing harm to others.
This process is called whistleblowing because by ‘blowing the whistle’ you bring attention to something that is happening and hopefully put a stop to it.
Many people are daunted about the prospect of whistleblowing because there is the potential to cause disruption at work and impact other people’s jobs, or because they worry that their claims will be disregarded and they may face backlash for voicing a concern. Having a whistleblowing policy makes this process easier, which means that more employees will feel empowered to report wrongdoings and improve the environments they work in.
There are several different types of whistleblowing that are all covered by whistleblowing policies and involve slightly different processes and outcomes for both the whistleblower and the company they are raising concerns about.
Internal whistleblowing is the most common form of whistleblowing and refers to incidents where an employee raises their concerns with another employee or department within their organisation. This is often to a company’s HR department, but may also be to a line manager or senior member of the team, depending on the size of the establishment.
This type of whistleblowing tends to be recommended in most whistleblowing policies as it allows for the issue to be dealt with internally which reduces the chances of any serious wrongdoings getting leaked and stories being circulated in the press. However, in some cases employees may feel unable to report an issue internally, which is why other types of whistleblowing exist.
External whistleblowing involves reporting concerns to sources who are outside of the business, such as groups who control industry standards, organisations like the Health and Safety Executive, and in serious cases the police. If this occurs then the employee must believe that they have a reasonable claim to doing so, that it is within the public interest to make the report, and that the complaint falls within the remit of the organisation they are reporting to.
Cyber whistleblowing is a new kind of whistleblowing that has evolved with the rise in cybercrime. It involves whistleblowing that concerns cyber security issues in particular, such as when a company has tried to cover up a breach of their databases without notifying any customers and an internal source then reports this.
Whistleblowing policies can vary greatly between different organisations. Not only can the size and the structure of a business or establishment affect how whistleblowing incidents are handled, but the sector it belongs to may also have specific procedures that need to be followed in cases of incidents like harassment, abuse or fraud.
All good whistleblowing policies begin with a definition of what whistleblowing actually is. Many employees are often hesitant to raise concerns because they are not sure whether the issue falls under the whistleblowing description, which can prevent problems from being identified and removed.
The definition should include some examples of whistleblowing incidents that are relevant to the organisation. It can also be useful to give an example of what is NOT a whistleblowing concern and instead falls under the category of personal grievance.
After this definition, the policy should then give a statement from the organization sharing their views on whistleblowing. This should include the fact that all complaints will be taken seriously, that any employee can raise a concern and that employees will be protected and not face any mistreatment for coming forward.
It should also state that any employee who is found to be whistleblowing in bad faith or with malicious intentions will be severely punished, and that the system is not to be taken lightly.
Within the policy should be a clear explanation of how an organization is going to commit to protecting their employees who do make a whistleblowing statement. This should include the consequences of any victimisation from other staff and the promise that employees will not be punished if the issue they raise is eventually not found to be a problem.
It can also be good to outline whether the organisation will provide any whistleblowing training or additional resources for staff to use in the event of an incident.
Next, the policy should outline what the official process for whistleblowing is. This should highlight whether there are any specific members of staff that should be approached with a concern, or give direction as to which department complaints can be voiced.
Whilst every case will be different, a rough idea of the kind of information that will be required should be given so that the individual raising the concern knows what kind of things they will need to mention. The policy should then describe each of the whistleblowing procedures that will be followed depending on the kind of complaint, along with what the individual will have to contribute to each stage and how long these processes usually take.
After the process has been described, it’s useful for policies to detail whether the employee will be given any kind of feedback about the progress of the investigation their concern began. In some cases these details need to be kept confidential, but the individual should know that action has been taken.
In cases where external whistleblowing is necessary, whistleblowing policies should identify a list of third party “prescribed persons'', which can include organizations like HMRC or HSE. It is important to specify that only these prescribed persons should be contacted, as otherwise the whistleblower may not receive the same protections as they would in an internal case.
In some cases, the whistleblower may want additional protection alongside what is also provided by the policy, such as total anonymity and confidentiality over their identity. This should be made possible, but it should be made clear that this may affect the feedback they will be given if action is taken.
Some employees may also want the support of a third party whilst making statements or sharing information, whether this is a coworker or a trade union representative.
All organisations should offer their employees support or advice after they have been involved in a whistleblowing incident. If the event has been traumatic then counselling may be required, or you may just want to provide a contact for if the individual has any further questions.
Having this support system in place and mentioning it in your policy will demonstrate that the organisation takes these cases seriously, and also make employees more likely to come forward as they know they will be supported.
Whistleblowing is a very important ethical practice. It involves acting for the greater good of the general public in order to ensure that high standards are met and other people do not suffer from preventable malpractice.
Firstly, whistleblowing is important in a safeguarding capacity because it puts a stop to behaviour that is harming others. In a school or healthcare environment, staff have a duty of care for the people they look after, and any wrongdoings in this context could have a serious impact on those who have put their trust in the workers.
Having a whistleblowing policy and supporting the process is also the right thing to do from an ethical perspective. It allows for transparency in the workplace, holds people accountable for their actions and behaviour, and means that everyone is empowered to speak out against things they think are wrong.
Whistleblowing is also important because it reduces the chances of malpractice and wrongdoings in the workplace by ensuring that workers know they can report this kind of behaviour. When people know they run the risk of being caught and know that there are systems in place to persecute misbehaviour, they will be less likely to do it in the first place which is better for everyone.
Finally, having whistleblowing procedures in place through a policy means that there are effective systems to handle misconduct. This reduces the likelihood of legal action, public scandal and a negative impact on reputation, which helps companies and establishments to keep running smoothly and continue to provide their services to those who need them.
In schools, a whistleblowing policy is a policy that allows members of staff to raise concerns about occurrences within the school without being at any risk of backlash because of it. In safeguarding terms, whistleblowing is a process where the behaviour of someone in the school is thought to be putting children at risk of harm, so the issue is reported to reduce any further harmful behaviour.
The main piece of legislation that controls whistleblowing and whistleblowing policies is the Employment Rights Act 1996. This states that all workers have the right to report concerns they have about wrongdoings in their workplace and will be protected in doing so, meaning they cannot be lawfully fired for making a complaint.
Whistleblowing legislation only covers workers who believe they are acting in the public interest. If a complaint is made that is not classed as a worker acting in the public interest, they will not be covered by the whistleblowing legislation.
Whistleblowing is an important part of many organisations, particularly those who have a safeguarding responsibility to the people they support. Whilst coming forward with a concern can feel like you’re doing something wrong, following the procedure outlined in a whistleblowing policy ensures that you’ll be protected and that the right action will be taken to prevent misconduct and ensure ethical practice.
If you’d like to find out more about whistleblowing policies and how they play a part in safeguarding procedures, we cover this topic and more in our ‘Safeguarding Children Level 1’ online course.