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Q&A: Should a company have a policy on whistleblowing?

Q&A: Should a company have a policy on whistleblowing?

Q: Our business is within a sector often rocked with whistleblowing scandals. Considering this, should we have a whistleblowing policy? 

A: Making a protected disclosure, or blowing the whistle, is often perceived negatively by both workers and employers. Whistleblowing, however, creates a protected forum for serious concerns to be raised internally; making the employer aware of wrongdoing and allowing them the opportunity to make this right. Having a whistleblowing policy, especially in high-risk sectors, will ensure a clear application of the company’s rules in this area. 

A whistleblowing policy will usually set out information such as: the definition of a protected disclosure; who to make a disclosure to within the business; the process that will be followed on receipt of a whistleblowing disclosure and any relevant time scales. It can also be used to detail the potential outcomes of any whistleblowing disclosures, although it is important to ensure this states it is not exhaustive, to let the company consider other appropriate actions. 

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There are significant benefits for all companies that have a whistleblowing policy. Setting out who workers can make a disclosure to encourages these to be made, as there is no confusion or uncertainty about where to make them. In addition, setting out the process and any time periods that apply to this will set the expectations of the employee from the outset. This will reduce the possibility of the worker raising an additional complaint concerning the time taken to investigate the disclosure or the way it is handled. 

Introducing a whistleblowing policy in the employee handbook is an easy way of implementing the new policy. The policy itself, or the updated version of the handbook, should be reissued to all staff to ensure they receive a copy. Each employee should be encouraged to read the policy in full. Having evidence that every member of the workforce has received, read and understood the policy will be useful going forwards as this might need to be relied on in future proceedings. As such, every member of staff should be given a form or notice to sign and date as proof of receipt. 

Having a whistleblowing policy alone may not be sufficient to increase understanding. Training should be carried out on whistleblowing itself and the company’s policy. Reminding staff in this training about the definition of a "protected disclosure" and how a personal grievance differs, with reference to the internal grievance policy, will ensure staff are bringing complaints under the correct procedure. In addition, managers who will implement the policy should also receive sufficient training to ensure there is no uncertainty or breaches of the policy by management. 

Peter Done is managing director of law firm Peninsula