How to set up a whistleblowing policy

Sophie Heatley, Content Writer · 12 Sep

Without proper procedures in place for employees to report workplace crimes and misdemeanors, dark stuff can build up. Here's why you need to set up a whistleblowing policy – and how to do it.

What is whistleblowing? 

The act of whistleblowing is, metaphorically speaking, blowing a whistle to call somebody out on something or to bring attention to a potentially harmful situation in the workplace. 

When a member of staff is suspected of misconduct, whistleblowing is the reporting of said employee to the necessary person or department. Likewise, if an employee notices something wrong or unusual taking place within the workplace environment, whistleblowing is the act of reporting the incident or concern. 

Could I be a whistleblower? 

If you are a worker, as in, you’re an employee, a trainee, an agency worker, or a member of a Limited Liability Partnership, you should be guaranteed confidentiality when imparting your information.  

The issue can be past, present or premonitory. However, it should be noted that the concern raised must be in the public interest.  

What are the main aims of whistleblowing? And why are they so important? 

Whistleblowing policies are less about ringing the fire alarm and more about confidentiality. The aim of the policy is to encourage employees to feel they can come forward about someone or something they feel concerned about, without the risk of being publicly exposed. 

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In this way, whistleblowing is supposed to protect against victimisation and harassment. 

In theory, whistleblowing policies ensure that a company is committed to assisting individuals who believe they have discovered malpractice in the workplace, allowing them to speak up without fear of reprisal. 

Whistleblowing policies and procedures are protected by law. The Public Interest and Disclosure Act gives legal protection to any employee against being penalised for having disclosed potentially damaging information about a colleague or company. 

Which circumstances might necessitate whistleblowing? 

You can be assured that you will be protected by law from the above if you report:

  • A criminal offense
  • A miscarriage of justice
  • That someone may be covering something up 
  • A potential risk to the working environment 
  • A potential risk to someone’s health 
  • A concern that someone may be in danger 

As for extreme cases, you may recall a major case of whistleblowing in the USA when Doctor Farid Fata was called out on health care fraud. Claims were made about Doctor Fata of giving patients chemotherapy who did not require the treatment. For some of the patients, this had life-threatening consequences. An investigation was undertaken following the claim, and Doctor Fata was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.  

There have also been cases of whistleblowing in care homes where carers have been accused of harming elderly pensioners due to poor safety measures and lack of training. For example, care home nurses have been accused and eventually dismissed for providing patients with the wrong medication. 

Whistleblowers should be treated fairly regardless of who or what they are blowing the whistle on. All concerns reported must be treated with the same respect, sensitivity and confidentiality. 

What are the different stages of whistleblowing? 

To maintain a consistent approach to reporting and dealing with incidents, it is important to develop a whistleblowing template. 

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When it comes to safeguarding whistleblowing policy, templates are an ideal resource. They enable all members dealing with the situation to be kept up to date with the reports progress. This allows all members involved in the investigation to see which stages have been covered, and to maintain the same standard of care and attention for every case. 

The first stage is the receipt of the complaint. 

In the second stage, the complaint would then be referred to the appropriate investigative officer. Provided the complaint is serious enough, an investigation would then take place. 

This would involve an analysis of who reported the incident, who was involved in the incident, and what the root cause of the incident was. During the investigation, full details of the complaint must be acquired and clarified. 

Where might the allegation end up? 

Based on the evidence unearthed during the investigation and on the validity of the claim, the investigative officer must consider whether legal action should be taken. At this stage, they should question whether to make contact with the police, or whether they should consult the chairman or chief executive of the business. 

The template should designate different officers depending on the claim. 

The claim may also be passed onto a nominated external senior manager or external investigating officer, to avoid any conflicts of interest when making the investigation.  

While whistleblowing policies must be shown to offer protection, before any whistleblowing can take place, employees should be made aware of the appropriate person to contact. Although fairly minor instances can be reported to the line manager, most, if not all, more serious incidents should be dealt with independently of line management. 

This rule is designed to avoid any bias or impartiality when dealing with the concern.  

Moreover, the member of staff against whom the accusation has been made must also be made aware of the allegation. They also maintain the right to contact their trade union for support. The accused benefits from the right to seek protection.

What else should be covered or monitored by the whistleblowing template? 

Other issues to be dealt with might include whether the incident is recurring or has only occurred on a single occasion, if anyone was physically or mentally harmed, if there was a financial loss, and whether there will be long-term or short-term effects. 

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If the investigation is prolonged because of a lack of information or other delay, the complainant must be kept informed in writing. 

How long would this take?

Due to the varied and random nature of the complaints – they may involve single or numerous individuals, and the gravity of each complaint can vary from minor to extreme, especially in cases of criminal activity – it is difficult to have specific timescales for all investigations. 

The main priority is, again, that all issues are approached with the same devotion. The investigating officer should aim to act as practically and as soon as possible. 

Whistleblowing policies, whether in a corporate business, a hospital ward, care-home or school, must provide individuals with the right to make anonymous allegations. 

While anonymous allegations lack the same credibility as those made with a name, they should still be treated at the discretion of the company. 

What about if the allegation is untrustworthy or unlikely?

The template must also provide information on how to deal with untrue allegations. The whistleblower has a responsibility to make sure their information is as accurate as possible. If the individual is suspected of making malicious or untrue allegations against someone, necessary disciplinary action may be taken by the company. 

Any suspicion of false allegations must also be investigated thoroughly. Any information should be passed on to an appropriate investigating officer as soon as is reasonably possible after the charge has been made. 

Meanwhile, if the complainant feels that their concern is not being dealt with properly, they maintain the right to raise the issue again with the Chairman, or one of the elected persons in their company’s policy. 

On the Government website, you can find a full list of prescribed persons and bodies to contact if the whistleblower is not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation. 

When has a whistleblowing policy been proven successful? 

According to the NHS whistleblowing policy, whistleblowing is the freedom to speak up. Their policy was set in motion in an effort to standardise the way organisations support staff raising public concerns. 

Their policy contributes to developing a culture that is open and receptive to listening to staff, especially when their concerns involve patient care quality and safety. 

One way in which they have organised their policy is by appointing whistleblowing guardians. These are independent and impartial personnel who serve as a source of advice. The guardians are available to listen and to offer their support at all stages in the whistleblowing process.  

A few examples of issues raised in the NHS by whistleblowers include unsafe patient care, inadequate training of staff, a bullying culture, financial disputes (including suspicions of fraud) and the misconduct of board members. 

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Following any and every case of whistleblowing, the NHS produce a report. The report notes the initial cause(s) of the issue, any lessons to be learnt from the issue, and a list of ways in which to combat this in the future. 

All evidence and reports are kept on file. They are annually reviewed by the organisation board, and consistently referred back to. In this way, the whistleblowing policy plays a significant role in improving how the NHS functions.

Whistleblowers have been appointed as the heart of the change needed to tackle an increasingly flawed culture around transparency and openness. In the past, staff have been scared of being reported to regulators, like the Nursing Council, after having made  claim. This ran the risk of the complainant potentially losing their job or seriously harming the reputation of their team.  

That being said, whistleblowers must be absolutely certain of the claim that they are making. Allegations can be life-changing and have drastic consequences on both the individual accused and the accuser, especially if the allegation is false. 

If an employment tribunal considers that your disclosure was made in bad faith, it has the power to reduce any compensation award by up to 25%.

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How can HR and Business Leaders ensure the protection of whistleblowers? 

One main concern that HR and Business Leaders have to deal with is making sure that the whistleblower is not reporting something based on personal vendettas or ill-feelings towards a particular colleague. 

Personal grievances are not covered by whistleblowing law.

HR departments should provide separate platforms for individuals who feel they need support in the workplace - one for more personal matters and one for more extreme cases. This should help employees differentiate between personal misunderstandings and more serious matters. 

If you are experiencing a work dispute that you feel may be getting out of hand, there are formal procedures that can help you deal with the situation. 

You can contact your HR department to begin with, or the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) for further advice. 

What can I take from understanding more about whistleblowing? 

Speaking up about any concern you have at work is really important. As an employee, you should be made aware of the necessary departments you can contact. If an unfortunate situation arises where you need help or advice, your HR department should be on hand. 

No employee should be left unheard, regardless of whether they think their problem is extreme or minor. In the healthcare industry, whistleblowing may just save a life. In the business sector, it may prevent a major fraud scandal. In a local firm, it may just save an employee from having a really tough time. 

Employees should have confidence in the fact that their voice will be heard

Whatever the case, all employees should be taken seriously by their organisation, and all matters should be looked into properly. 

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