We have previously explored what whistleblowing is and what legal protection a whistleblower is entitled to but what should you actually do if there is a protected disclosure? Here are seven key steps to follow to ensure you handle things correctly and avoid legal problems.
1. Check whether it is actually a protected disclosure
The legal framework around whistleblowing is quite specific in terms of what kinds of complaints or concerns being raised come under the protection. Sometimes an employee will say they are making a protected disclosure but it won’t meet the criteria, and equally sometimes they may just raise a concern without mentioning whistleblowing at all, but it will later become clear their concern was protected.
That isn’t to say if it doesn’t meet the criteria you shouldn’t address it, but it’s just worth being clear whether whistleblowing protection applies. This also enables you to identify the best way to deal with it – if it isn’t a protected disclosure and is in fact a complaint about their own employment circumstances, the grievance process is probably appropriate.
Employees who have raised whistleblowing concerns are often worried and anxious about how their actions will be received. Reassure them that you take it seriously, will investigate carefully and that their disclosure will not affect their position at work.
If necessary, remind managers or others who will know about the whistleblowing of their obligations to ensure the employee is not treated unfavourably or victimised in any way.
As soon as you can, give the employee raising the concern an outline or timescale of what will happen next, to manage their expectations. Let them know what feedback they can expect and by when. Update them during the process as much as you can, and make sure they have access to any policies that might be relevant.
You need to look into the concerns being raised carefully. Disclosures falling under whistleblowing protection are by their nature serious so it’s important you take them seriously and find out what has gone wrong, if anything. If you can do this well and put things right where they have gone wrong, you are more likely to be able to prevent the employee escalating it externally.
Once you’ve investigated the concerns you should inform the whistleblower of your findings and of any changes to procedures you are planning to implement as a result, and any other actions being taken (taking into consideration confidentiality where appropriate). If you are not changing anything and believe there are no justifiable concerns, give as much as you can in terms of information why – this will reduce the likelihood of further escalation.
6. Next level
If the employee is not satisfied with the outcome or investigation following their disclosure to their employer they may decide to escalate the matter to a prescribed body (such as HMRC or the Health and Safety Executive) who will then contact the employer directly and start an external process.
The whistleblower should be given support throughout the process, and given the serious nature of whistleblowing concerns, support such as counselling (perhaps from an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provider if you have one), mediation or similar might be appropriate or necessary.
Continuing to work in an organisation having made a whistleblowing complaint can be incredibly difficult but it’s important to try and achieve this if possible once the process is finished – someone who feels they need to resign because of reactions to raising a whistleblowing may attempt a constructive dismissal claim.
If you would like more information and/or advice about whistleblowing and how to proceed after a disclosure, please get in touch.