We are particularly interested in hearing from whistleblowers and their representatives, those involved in Employment Tribunal claims brought by whistleblowers, and HR and Audit professionals who investigate disclosures.
Even if a whistleblower uncovers a scandal they may still be perceived as disloyal and unemployable, which is why anonymity is key. Requiring employees or others to blow the whistle can be dangerous because it can put individuals between a rock and a hard place, at risk of losing their job if they do or don't make a disclosure. At the same time organisations struggle to understand whether a high or low number of disclosures is preferable. The situation is complicated by the possibility of financial rewards for whistleblowers, and reputational risks for organsiations who discriminate against whistleblowers. These are just a few of the dilemmas, and the questions which arise seem endless.
Is whistleblowing a safety value which companies should encourage, or are whistleblowers usually self-interested opportunists? How can we get the balance right? Is the Public Interest Disclosure Act fit for purpose? What is the best way for whistleblowing to evolve in the UK? Please share your views and experiences.
The UK’s PIDA may soon lose its status as best in class. The European Parliament’s non-legislative resolution, adopted last week, is the strongest signal yet that the horizontal protections for whistleblowers are about to be formally implemented, and these protections will go further than PIDA. For example, companies who take retaliatory action against whistleblowers may not receive EU funds; compulsory awareness raising in cooperation with trade unions; special reporting procedures required for information involving respect for professional ethics, national security and defence; Member States to formally evaluate the effectiveness of domestic measures including cross-sectoral surveys and independent research; whistleblowers guaranteed feedback about investigations and the right to comment on the outcome; investigations to be conducted independently; protection of physical, moral and social integrity of whistleblowers and their families; whistleblowers to get compensation pending the conclusion of court cases; gagging orders to be subject to criminal penalties; and breaches of anonymity to be subject to sanctions.
Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this discussion topic. I am a whistleblower (Saudi Arabia / GPT/ Airbus) and was also, for three years, the Inaugural Chairman of Whistleblowers UK (WBUK), an NGO established to support and advise those who feel the need to disclose wrongdoing.
Whistleblowing is not a career option: one does not plan on doing it, but rather falls into it through a process of observation, comparison with experience, knowledge and training and taking the decision to do something about what one perceives as unacceptable behaviour or practice. One does not readily comprehend the severe personal and professional consequences of 'blowing the whistle' and nor doe one expect the often highly adversarial and intimidatory reception that one receives.Â
I have just completed a Master's dissertation looked at Overcoming Stigma: applying whistleblowers' experiences to Human Rights Defenders, in which I showed through primary research that, for 98% of whistleblowers the consequences of their actions were (1) Loss of job and future career, (2) Loss of income/ great reduction in earning potential, (3) Severe impact on health (especially mental health and self esteem), and (4)Â Adverse effect on domestic situation (in extremis, leading to divorce). The ONLY thing that appeared to keep most whistleblowers grounded was the support of close friends and family.
Most whistleblowers with whom I have come into contact ( over 300 in the course of establishing the WBUK helpline) would be utterly offended to be considered as self-interested opportunists and, whilst there are undoubtedly some disgruntled employees or those seeking a form of pay-back for perceived professional or managerial slights, the great majority appear to be valid in exposing illegality, immorality or abuse.
Honest professionals have little to fear from true whistleblowers: they are the conscience of your company or profession voicing real concerns at behaviour which does not meet the standards that you expect form yourself or your peers: they should be listened to, validated and appreciated not cast aside as worrisome colleagues who threaten the status quo and reputation of the organisation.
As to whether whistleblowers should be rewarded, it is really a matter of how you want your society, company or profession to develop in the future. If you are willing to allow wrong-doing to continue and would rather bury your head in the sand allowing malpractice to continue then you face a future of degradation in standards and behaviour. If you want to maintain standards and progress your organisation then you should encourage and acclaim those who are willing to stand up and be counted. Currently, whistleblowers face a range of detriments (personal, professional, financial, social) which act as deterrents to good behaviour and which disincentivise others to behave well.
What we should be doing is exactly the opposite, we should be incentivising others to act similarly when they observe bad behaviour - indeed, we do this with our children so why dl we act differently with our colleagues and employees?
(1) Protection of whistleblowers so that they are not victimised, intimidated and stigmatised for acting properly ( this incorporates confidentiality (NOT anonymity), legal sanctions/ penalties against corporate/managerial retribution, and guaranteed employment protection) Â
(2) Compensation for detriments received (including loss of employment, damage to future career, legal costs, damage to health, secondary effects to domestic affairs)
(3) Incentivisation (pour encourager les autres) in both hard and soft form, ranging from financial remuneration (related to the benefit brought by the disclosure) to inclusion in the national Honours and Awards system and a publicly acclaimed Professional / Business Award ( Sponsors needed >>>?)
I would be delighted to discuss any of these topics further - and BBC Panorama on 16th January 2018 will allow members to judge my actions for themselves. I look forward to the discussion
I highly recommend the House of Saud: A Family at War (Series 1 Episode 2) which is available on BBC2 iplayer until the end of January. A brilliant illustration of how difficult it is to separate whistleblowing from investigation, and the tension between commercial interests and moral courage. The question is how whistleblowing develops from here. Am I naïve in thinking that state corruption has become more of historic art form than an accepted way to do business? #HouseofSaud