Why your small business needs a whistleblowing policy

Has your business got a whistleblowing policy? Find out why every company needs one, and some practical steps you can take to protect your workers and you.

With high profile cases like Volkswagen, Lidl and the NHS hitting the news, whistleblowing is a topic that has had much more awareness lately. And while only household names may make the press, whistleblowing is an issue that affects businesses of every size.

That’s why every company, however small, needs to have a whistleblowing policy – to protect both their employees and themselves.

HR expert Jinny McDemott explains exactly what a whistleblowing policy is, and some simple steps you can take to implementing one in your own business.

What is a whistleblower?

A whistleblower is a worker who makes a disclosure about a colleague’s conduct in the course of employment, or about the employer’s practices.

‘A worker’ can be someone directly employed by your company, or anyone who works for you under a contract and who is employed in Great Britain. They don’t need to have worked for you for any set length of time to make  a disclosure.

Any disclosures should be made in the public interest, and brought to the attention of the public through the appropriate channels.

What’s a protected disclosure ?

Some types of disclosures are protected. Protected disclosures are those relating to:

  • A criminal offence.
  • A failure to comply with a legal obligation.
  • A miscarriage of justice.
  • A risk to, or breach of health and safety.
  • Environmental damage.
  • The deliberate concealment of any of the above.

These are protected, whether they concern a past act, an omission, present improper conduct, or the prospect of action or omission.

Why it’s important to encourage honesty

To avoid the need for whistleblowing, it’s important to encourage a culture of honesty and open communication in your business. Employees need to feel that they can raise any concerns they may have without the risk of dismissal or victimisation – and that their concerns will be given a fair hearing.

They also need to know how, and to whom they can raise any issues. And that is why a clear and well-communicated whistleblowing policy is essential.

How a whistleblowing policy helps everyone

A properly established whistleblowing policy reassures your workers that it’s safe to raise concerns, and that they will be dealt with properly. It also gives them a structure they can follow, to ensure they approach the right person.

It also clearly defines exactly what constitutes ‘whistleblowing’ (it’s not, for example, raising a grievance based on a personal issue), helping to avoid time wasted on dealing with inappropriate complaints.

And finally, a whistleblowing policy also protects you by giving clear guidelines and penalties for any false and malicious allegations made against you.

Practical steps you can take

So how do you go about creating a whistleblowing policy? Here are some practical steps you can take:

  • Make sure you have processes established for whistleblowing, and that your files are up to date (it will soon be a requirement to report on whistleblowing claims).
  • Identify who in your company is classed as ‘a worker’ and therefore protected by law when whistleblowing (this includes employees, trainees and members of a Limited Liability Partnership).
  • If you need to, arrange training for you and your staff.
  • Update your employee contracts to include clauses and notes referencing whistleblowing.
  • Send this article in an internal email to your employees to let them know about whistleblowing and reassure them that they are safe if they feel they need to raise any issues.
  • Ensure you or your managers know what to do when issues are raised.
  • Define your company’s whistleblowing policy (how staff raise issues, who they go to and how they’re handled) and ensure everyone is familiar with it.

It will soon be a requirement for employers to report annually on whistleblowing claims, so its wise to get a head start and look at implementing a policy in your workplace now.

For more information and to find out how Inline-HR Ltd can help you and your business, contact Jinny McDermott on 01296 761940.