Having to defend a claim of unfair dismissal or detriment due to having made a protected disclosure (whistleblowing) can be difficult, expensive, and enormously time-consuming, so it is best avoided if at all possible. Here are six things you can to do prevent whistleblowing employment claims in your small business.
1. Avoid any basis for a protected disclosure
Whistleblowing protection applies to disclosures made about serious concerns of malpractice within an organisation, normally relating to unlawful conduct or breach of regulations. It goes without saying that if you keep your house clean and ensure robust processes are in place to ensure legal requirements are met and no wrongdoing can take place, the chances of a worker having anything to disclose are much lower.
2. Open communication
Embedding a culture of open communication where employees feel safe raising concerns will help prevent formal disclosures ever being necessary. Provide multiple routes for concerns to be raised, including anonymous ones if possible. Make sure staff are fully aware how they can raise a concern, and are confident they will be listened to and taken seriously if they do. If employees know they can safely go to their manager or someone else with a query or concern at an early stage, and know that doing so won’t be perceived negatively, they are not likely to feel the need to make formal protected disclosures.
3. Formal policy
Having a user-friendly and clear whistleblowing policy in place will ensure everyone understands what they need to do and how concerns should be handled, reducing the likelihood of the process going wrong and the worker raising the concern feeling they need to bring a claim.
4. Address concerns effectively
Make sure senior staff are trained in how to deal with a disclosure, and that concerns raised are addressed quickly and effectively, with ongoing communication with the whistleblower. Even if the outcome isn’t what the employee wants, if they feel steps have been taken to understand and address concerns, they are less likely to feel they need to take further action or bring a claim.
5. Prevent ill-treatment
Absolutely vital to avoiding any claim of unfair dismissal or detriment relating to a protected disclosure is ensuring there is no chance anyone raising a concern will be treated unfavourably for doing so. Provide whistleblowers with support, and make sure all employees are absolutely clear that any unfavourable treatment or victimisation of someone for blowing the whistle is a serious offence. If a disclosure seems to be a mistake or a misunderstanding do not overreact or dismiss the concerns out of hand, as this could lead to accusations of victimisation.
6. Take advice
Whistleblowing is often complicated, frequently entwined with other employee issues such as grievances, disciplinary action, sickness absence or performance concerns, so it is usually sensible to take advice at an early stage to ensure the situation is managed well and your legal vulnerabilities are understood and avoided. You should also be aware that settlement agreements do not remove the risk of a disclosure, so if you have an employee you are hoping to manage out with a settlement agreement and you are concerned they may blow the whistle, you will not be able to prevent them doing so.
If you would like more information and/or advice about whistleblowing and how to avoid whistleblowing claims, please get in touch.