December 7, 2021
When former Facebook employee Frances Haugen announced the socials media giant's "unilateral control over 3 billion people", the term "whistleblower" made its way into mainstream media once more. In recent history whistleblowers have increasingly made headlines causing many to ask: who is protected by whistleblowing laws?
Whistle-blowing is a legal term that can often cause panic and confusion for employers and employees alike. While we might be broadly familiar with whistle-blowing because it hits the headlines (Facebook being a recent example), it is important to know what this means in practice and how whistle-blowing PR disasters can be averted. It's important firstly for staff members to know when and how to report and secondly, for employers to recognise and promptly investigate reports, alongside taking any necessary steps to resolve the issue. To help, we've laid out examples of whistleblower activity, alongside a handy infographic to address who's protected, and who's not.
There are some dangerous, unethical and illegal practices that might have continued if someone within an organisation (who could see what was going on) hadn’t reported malpractice. We rely on these individuals (or whistleblowers) coming forward so that these concerns can be investigated and, if proven to be true, addressed. Lots of groups benefit when this happens:
However, someone might think twice about making a report or blowing the whistle if they thought they would get fired, or miss out on a promotion or pay rise because they had said something. The thought of being labelled as a ‘troublemaker’ by an employer and the potential consequences that might arise, will deter many from speaking up. That’s why the law steps in to protect whistle-blowers. If they have made a valid report (known as a qualifying disclosure) then their employer cannot:
So far, so good. Society benefits from whistle-blowing and the law therefore protects whistle-blowers by making sure employers cannot treat someone badly for making a valid report (and ensuring whistle-blowers are compensated properly if they are treated badly). The confusion begins to creep in when you realise:
Because of the nuances in whistleblowing legislation, sometimes explaining whistle-blowing can feel a bit like trying to explain the offside rule! But don’t worry, we’ve put together a nifty flow diagram to help give an indication of whether whistle-blowing (and the legal protections) might apply to a situation or not.
These scenarios are some examples of potential whistle-blowing dilemmas which arise in the workplace:
If you think you might be facing a whistle-blowing scenario, or you’d like a legal adviser to help drafting a whistleblower policy, please get in touch. We can ensure your team knows what to do if a whistle-blowing situation ever arises.
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