This is a very good question. Many of us are aware of the associated risks, so what are the benefits of whistleblowing? Whistleblowing has been well documented in recent years with many high profile cases. One of the common factors the cases share is the negative impact they have on the whistleblower. Jobs have been lost, people have been made to feel uncomfortable in their place of employment and in many instances they have been publicly named. So where is the benefit?
‘Whistleblowing’ comes from the idea that an individual “blows the whistle’. If you blow a whistle you are trying to draw attention to something. In this instance, whistleblowing means to draw attention to something wrong or dangerous. The benefits of whistleblowing may be what you expect either.
A definition of whistleblowing at work usually concerns raising a concern regarding the conduct of colleagues, managers and staff. It can also apply to third parties, such as customers or suppliers.
Is that the same as making a complaint?
At first glance, whistle blowing does seem similar to making a complaint, but they are different.
Examples of whistle blowing include:
- a criminal offence, for example, fraud
- someone’s health and safety is in danger
- the risk or actual damage to the environment
- a miscarriage of justice
- the company is breaking the law, for example, does not have the right insurance
- you believe someone is covering up wrongdoing
Complaints are personal grievances. This includes:
It is possible to report certain activities which overlap with personal grievances. For example, dangerous and unsafe working conditions are both an organisational problem and a personal one for the individual working in that environment.
Let’s imagine the example of Sarah. Sarah works for an animal charity. She loves her job and cares passionately about the aim of the company to improve the lives of animals. For some time Sarah has had a suspicion that her manager Laura has been stealing money from the charity and is spending it on luxury goods, holidays and cars. Sarah is deeply upset by this but concerned that she will lose her job if she says anything. Eventually, following the company whistleblower policies, reports Laura to senior management.
The Senior management do not believe that Laura is stealing from the company and handle the situation badly. Laura finds out about the allegation and begins to bully Sarah in the workplace. The environment becomes so unpleasant that eventually Sarah quits her jobs.
After her departure Sarah decides to inform the local authority of her suspicions. Following this there is an external enquiry into the finances of the charity. It transpires that not only Laura but senior managers also, were routinely stealing money.
Whilst Sarah has eventually triumphed by exposing and stopping fraudulent behaviour, she also lost her job in the process. She has the moral reassurance that she did the right thing but the process has cost her dearly, both financially and emotionally.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 governs whistleblowing in the UK. Under this act financial compensation for whistleblowing is possible but certain requirements must be met. Firstly, the whistleblower must have a reasonable belief that the disclosure is made in the public interest and it must include one of the examples of whistle blowing. The whistleblower must follow the correct whistleblowing procedure.
The whistleblower can claim in an Employment Tribunal in two possible ways; that the issue was to their detriment and that they were unfairly dismissed.
In Sarah’s case, all of the above applies. The disclosure was in the public interest as money donated for animals was being fraudulently used by employees instead. This came under an example of whistleblowing as she was reporting on a criminal offence. And the whistleblowing was to her detriment. She suffered bullying and eventually had to leave her job.
There are numerous examples of whistleblowing and their outcomes and this issue is complex. Therefore, it is essential that organisations have robust policies and procedures in place and regular information and training is provided to employees.
Engage in learning provide a highly engaging course to help you explore what whistle blowing is, the protection the whistleblower has under the law and what steps this person may take when exposing wrong doing either internally or outside the organisation.