What should a whistleblower policy contain?
29th January 2020
What should your whistleblowing policy include?
Broadly speaking, it should explain to colleagues how whistleblowers will be supported, what they can expect to happen following their disclosure, and where they can get more support.
Let’s look at what your whistleblower policy should contain in more detail…
1: Statement of organisational support for whistleblowing in general
As we noted above, whistleblowers are a force for good, and they should be encouraged. The sooner that malpractice or dangerous conduct is exposed, the sooner we can tackle the underlying issue and reduce the associated risks.
Your whistleblowing policy is the ideal place to make it clear that your organisation supports any colleague who has a concern, and that those concerns will be properly investigated.
2: Definitions of whistleblowing and key terms
Whistleblowing is a very effective way to tackle a range of workplace issues, but it is not a catch-all process for managing problems at work. For this reason, your whistleblowing policy should clearly explain what is covered by the policy, and what is not.
What is covered by whistleblowing law?
For a colleague to be covered by whistleblowing law, they must reasonably believe two things:
- That they are acting in the public interest. Personal grievances and complaints are not usually covered by whistleblowing law.
- That the disclosure relates to past, present or future wrongdoing that falls into one of the following categories
- Criminal offences (including fraud)
- Failure to comply with laws
- Miscarriages of justice
- Health and safety breaches
- Environmental damage
- Covering up wrongdoing
3: Explanation of company whistleblowing policy
Having defined your position on supporting whistleblowers, your policy should provide clear guidance on how to disclose concerns.
For example, colleagues might need to talk to their line manager in the first instance.
If this is not suitable, perhaps because the line manager is the subject of the disclosure, employees should be offered an alternative colleague to contact. Again, it’s important to make whistleblowing as easy and as inviting as possible so that colleagues speak up more readily, giving you more time to address risks and minimise harm.
For many organisations, the trail of escalation looks something like this:
- Line manager
- HR manager
- Senior manager
- C-suite (CEO, CFO, CTO etc)
- Board members
4: Commitment to treating disclosures fairly and consistently
Employees may feel concerned that making a disclosure will affect their career or tarnish their reputation. Your policy should make it clear that whistleblowers are encouraged to report any concerns that meet any concerns that are in the public interest, and that they will not suffer any undue consequences as a result of speaking up.
5: Explain the benefits of whistleblowing
Discussing the benefits of whistleblowing is a simple way to clarify your organisation’s position on making disclosures. It also reminds employees that whistleblowing is a positive action that is likely to benefit the company in the long run. The alternative to whistleblowing is to conceal malpractice or wrongdoing and prevent colleagues from addressing the issues.
6: Example process following report
Employees should have a clear understanding of what will happen after they make a disclosure. Your policy might define how the complaint will be handled, who will be notified about it and what action will be taken.
Employees should also know how quickly they will receive a response, or an estimate of how long an investigation should take. Without clear communication and defined expectations, employees may lose faith in the whistleblowing process. If the disclosure relates to an urgent matter, such as an issue of risk to health or public safety, the colleague may feel forced to contact external authorities.
7: How to escalate an issue
Colleagues who report concerns may feel dissatisfied with the action that follows, either because they feel it is ignored, dismissed too readily, or not acted upon with sufficient vigour.
Similar to the pathway for reporting concerns, colleagues should be offered alternative contacts for instances when they feel that the response to their report was insufficient.
8: Commitment to provide training on the topic of whistleblowing
Without training on whistleblowing, your organisational culture may never really embrace the idea of making disclosures, and of welcoming the reports of concerned colleagues. By making training a regular part of onboarding, inductions, and learning and development programmes you can entrench the idea that whistleblowing is a positive activity that benefits the individual and the organisation.
Declaring your commitment to providing training can further reassure colleagues that whistleblowers will not be punished or victimised. E-learning is an effective and affordable way to deliver this kind of essential training to your entire company.
9: Commitment to maintain confidentiality of the whistleblower
Many whistleblowers do not want to remain anonymous. And this is useful because it allows management to ask follow-up questions about the disclosure, and it also allows feedback and a report to be provided to the whistleblower.
If the whistleblower wants anonymity, they may never know how their disclosure has been dealt with, and may not feel reassured that the issue has been adequately resolved.
However, when whistleblowers do wish to remain anonymous, they should be reassured that steps will be taken to protect their identity. They should also be advised that colleagues may speculate about the identity of the whistleblower, and there is very little the organisation can do to prevent employees from talking about the incident, and potentially guessing their correct identity.
10: A definition of how disclosures are logged
It is good practice to keep records of how many disclosures are made each year, as well as the nature of the report, how it was resolved, and whether the whistleblower was satisfied with the response.
11: Anonymous disclosure channel
Many organisations provide a channel for making anonymous disclosures. This might be a secure letterbox or an anonymous email address that gives colleagues a way to report their concerns without being identified.
This can be beneficial for organisations as it reduces the number of concerned employees who never speak up because they fear potential repercussions.
12: Confirmation that the whistleblower does not need to provide evidence about their disclosure
The key thing about whistleblowing policies is to encourage an open exchange of concerns, not to turn your colleagues into Columbo. Rather than demanding that employees provide evidence of malpractice or misdemeanours, it is best practice to invite disclosures whenever there is a genuine concern, regardless of how much evidence exists.
13: Links to other organisations who can provide support and guidance to potential whistleblowers
You might want to provide additional resources to whistleblowers so they can develop a broader understanding of the issues, and also reassure themselves that your policy is backed by legislation.
Your policy might also direct employees to access more information from:
- Trade unions
- Public Concern at Work (a whistleblowing charity)
Promoting and publicising your policy is essential
The government’s own advice on whistleblowing is to encourage employees to raise concerns, and to make it easy and safe for colleagues to make disclosures. A key part of this process is to foster a culture in which whistleblowing is seen as a force for good.
If you’ve created a whistleblowing policy, the next step is to make sure that every employee is aware of it, and understands its significance. Some organisations even include the whistleblowing policy in employment contracts and onboarding schemes.
E-learning programmes are an effective way to consistently raise awareness about your organisation’s approach to whistleblowing, and reduce the risk of malpractice going unreported.
E-learning from Marshalls
Marshalls is an e-learning and training provider with many years of experience in creating and building learning and development programmes for leading organisations in diverse fields. You can either choose our off-the-shelf courses, or we can work together to design learning solutions that align with your brand and appeal to the needs and interests of your employees.
Our Whistleblowing e-learning course provides a comprehensive introduction to the concept of whistleblowing and why it is so important to all organisations. Whistleblowing is part of our suite of financial e-learning courses.
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