Speaking up stops harm, but is good for business too

Speaking up stops harm, but is good for business too

January 13, 2022

Protect is the UK’s whistleblowing charity, and a leading authority on whistleblowing. Back in the 1990s, Protect (then called Public Concern at Work) lobbied for one of the world’s first whistleblowing laws, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, (PIDA). Back then, whistleblowing was not a concept many understood.

Revolutionary at the time, PIDA today is out of date and in need of urgent reform. Newer, more robust legislation such as the EU Whistleblowing Directive takes PIDA as a blueprint, but updates it with more extensive protections. The EU Whistleblowing Directive requires companies with 50 or more employees, as well as municipalities with populations of 10,000 or more, to establish secure and effective reporting systems.

How the EU Directive goes beyond UK law

The deadline to adopt the EU Directive requirements was December 17 2021. As of that date a small number of countries (currently five – Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, Malta and Lithuania) have adopted new legislation, and 13 have draft proposals issued, but of these only 3 are being discussed in Parliament – France, the Netherlands and now Estonia. The remaining 9 have still not shared draft laws publicly.

A key area where the EU Directive on Whistleblowing has moved beyond PIDA is the recognition that the law should impose legal standards on employers in terms of their whistleblowing arrangements. In the UK, (outside of regulated sectors such as health, finance and aviation) there is no universal requirement for employers to have in place a whistleblowing policy, and arrangements such as whistleblowing ambassadors, training or an external independent hotline or to investigate serious public interest concerns raised by their staff.

Let's fix UK whistleblowing law

With the UK out of Europe, Protect wants the same robust protections granted to whistleblowers to match the EU Whistleblowing Directive. Its campaign ‘Let’s Fix UK Whistleblowing Law’ seeks three urgent reforms which includes a legal duty on employers to introduce whistleblowing arrangements Research by YouGov  commissioned by Protect  found 76% of UK workers want to see all employers have whistleblowing standards in place and 80% agreed employers should face sanctions for breaching those standards.

Protect has identified 3 key urgent reforms of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1988:

  • Protection of more people: many groups of people working in the UK are excluded from whistleblowing legal protection, and we need stronger protections. Today’s workforce - with the gig economy and many freelancers and contractors - is a very different place from the 1990s when PIDA was passed.
  • Standards for employers: all employers should be required to meet standards for whistleblowing and follow recognised procedures. Tougher enforcement against employers is needed for those who fail to listen or who treat whistleblowers badly.

Why today's whistleblowing laws need strengthening

The benefits of a strong whistleblowing culture are well documented – Protect’s report ‘Workplace Whistleblowing: Why we need a legal duty on employers’ outlines for example, how whistleblowers detect more occupational fraud than internal audit.

The message Protect wants to get across is that today’s laws need strengthening as whistleblowers can and are still being victimised for speaking up. Protect is working on a project with employers to explore best practice and innovation around whistleblower victimisation prevention. A guide will be produced in Spring 2022.

Protect’s Business Development Director Jon Cunningham, who oversees Protect’s employer engagement, training and consultancy work, said: “There continues to be a gap between what whistleblowing policies, arrangements and support systems promise to workers, and the experience of those that raise concerns. Whistleblowing rules and improved legislation on their own cannot guarantee standards will improve. We need employers to ensure they are listening and taking action to those concerns being raised and that they are not ignoring or victimising whistleblowers.

Protect knows that the act of whistleblowing can lead an organisation to act defensively and shift its focus onto the whistleblower instead of dealing with the concern raised.

Jon added “Another common pitfall is relying on a policy on an intranet and thinking that will be enough. Some organisations simply don’t understand the depth required to really see results. It is much more effort than just having a policy. To make sure organisations are engaging with staff and ensuring there is no disconnect with employees and promoting a healthy transparent top-down whistleblowing culture requires work, regular training, strong promotion and comms, and feedback to whistleblowers.

Getting whistleblowing right

  • Getting it right means others will have confidence in coming forward
  • Effective whistleblowing arrangements can protect employers’ finances and reputation and shows good corporate governance.
  • Getting it wrong can also be damaging for employer – reputational/financial risks and regulatory intervention/Employment Tribunal cases
  • Getting it wrong also destroys trust inside and outside the organisation
    - victimisation of whistleblowers, and a failure to deal with their concerns can destroy any other work that is done to create confidence in a whistleblowing system

About Protect
Protect is the UK’s whistleblowing charity. We aim to stop harm by encouraging safe whistleblowing. Our free, confidential Advice Line supports around than 3,000 whistleblowers each year who have seen malpractice, risk or wrongdoing in the workplace. We also work with organisations supporting, advising and training teams on improving their speak up arrangements. Our work is cross sector, but we do a lot of work financial services and the health care sector. Protect also conducts research, informs public policy and campaigns for better legal protection of whistleblowers. Protect was the first whistleblowing charity in the UK to help whistleblowers. Since 1993, when we formed, we have handled 45,000 cases, and our Advice Line supports more than 3,000 whistleblowers each year.

Our aim is to protect the public interest by helping workers to speak up to stop harm and wrongdoing. We support whistleblowers by providing free and confidential legal advice. We support employers to implement effective whistleblowing arrangements. We campaign for legal and policy reform to better protect whistleblowing. 

We want a world where no whistleblower goes unheard or unprotected.

We are SUPPORTIVE: we support whistleblowers to raise concerns, and we support
employers to establish effective whistleblowing arrangements

We are INDEPENDENT: we are honest, trusted and impartial

We are EXPERT: based on our experience over nearly 30 years, we explain the value of
whistleblowing and we produce compelling evidence for policy changes

We are COLLABORATIVE: we listen to and empower staff, we encourage diversity
and working with others.

You can learn more about Protect on their website: www.protect-advice.org.uk

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