06/09/2022

Whistleblower Policy: Why Your Organisation Needs One & What to Include

Whistleblower can halt unethical conduct, ongoing corruption, and harmful instances of malpractice. As a result, whistleblowers are afforded a series of rights that protect them in the event of blowing the proverbial whistle.

From what counts as whistleblowing, to the steps of a typical whistleblowing procedure, we provide everything you might need to know when crafting a whistleblower policy in this post.

A whistleblowing policy sets out how an organisation will respond to a whistleblowing report

This includes what qualifies as a legitimate whistleblower report (or “qualifying disclosures”), and when a qualifying disclosure will be protected, i.e. the legitimate report is made to an appropriate person.

Whistleblowing law in the UK

In the UK, individuals have a number of rights when it comes to whistleblowing, as long as certain criteria are met. Of particular importance to this is the public interest disclosure act (or PIDA for short).

This includes providing protection for workers reporting a concern about malpractice by their employers or third parties.

The PIDA resulted in two levels of protection for whistleblowers:

Unfair dismissal: Firstly, the dismissal of an employee is automatically unfair if the reason (or the principal reason) for their dismissal is that they have made a disclosure to their employer which is considered a “protected disclosure” under whistleblowing law in the UK.

Protection against detriment: Secondly, PIDA protects workers from being subjected to any detriment, on the grounds that they have made a “protected disclosure”.

When it comes to claims against employers for a breach of whistleblowing laws in the UK it’s important to note that there is no financial cap on compensation for the whistleblower and no requirement for the whistleblower to have a minimum period of service with the employer.

Whistleblower protections for charities & non-profits

Whistleblowing can impact any industry. Unfortunately, wrongdoing can occur across any range of organisations, and this includes charities and non-profit organisations. With that in mind, it’s crucial that all organisations have a whistleblower policy in place. Members of a charity can report concerns to their employer, and if it fits within whistleblower protection laws, they will have legal protection to do so. If a whistleblower report is particularly serious, a whistleblower may report concerns to the police if they think a criminal offence has occurred, or to the Charity Commission.

These whistleblower reports can include things that have happened, things that are happening, or things that are likely to happen. While many whistleblower reports can be handled via the points of contact outlined in the whistleblower policy, there will be some instances where an individual will have the option to report to the Charity Commission. However, this would only be in a select number of circumstances, whereby issues could seriously harm:

  • The people or group that the charity helps;

  • The charity’s staff or volunteers;

  • The services the charity provides;

  • The charity’s assets; or

  • The charity’s reputation.

Who is protected by a whistleblowing policy

While there are legal protections for whistleblowers, it’s not as simple as raising the alarm. To qualify for legal protection, whistleblowers will need to meet a series of criteria, much of which needs to be outlined in a whistleblower policy. When might someone not be protected by whistleblower law, is perhaps an easier question to answer:

Firstly, not all people within an organisation will be protected by whistleblower protection laws. If an individual is a volunteer, an intelligence officer, a member of the armed forces, or - in some scenarios - self-employed, they will not be protected by whistleblower law.

Secondly, reports need to pertain to very specific topics, and generally be made in the “public interest”. There may, for example, be some issues that don’t require the involvement of whistleblower law, and instead are internal business issues that need to be handled via a different means.

Thirdly, a legitimate whistleblower report relies on the disclosure of information, rather than simply an allegation.

Finally, a whistleblower policy will outline the correct organisation or person to raise a whistleblower report with. If the whistleblower fails to raise the whistleblower report with the right point of contact, it may result in a loss of their legal protections under whistleblower law.

What kinds of complaint count as whistleblowing

While some issues will certainly fall within the remit of whistleblower protection laws, there will be some complaints that don’t quite make the cut. Your whistleblower policy should set this out in clear terms so there can be no confusion regarding what qualifies as legitimate concerns under whistleblower protection laws.

So, what kinds of complaints count as whistleblowing?

  • A criminal offence, for example, fraud.

  • Someone’s health and safety is in danger.

  • Risk of or actual damage to the environment.

  • A miscarriage of justice.

The business is breaking the law, for example, the business does not have the right insurance.

The employee believes someone is covering up wrongdoing.

Personal grievances, such as bullying, harassment, or discrimination, are not covered by whistleblowing law unless your particular case is in the public interest. These complaints are usually covered under a grievance policy rather than a whistleblower policy.

Who needs a whistleblowing policy?

Any business at risk of any wrongdoing should have a whistleblower policy. So, to put it more simply, all businesses need a whistleblower policy.

Not only does a whistleblower policy outline what happens once a whistleblower report is made, but it also goes a long way towards creating an open and transparent relationship between the business and its employees. Although the law does not require employers to have a whistleblower policy in place, the existence of one showcases the employer’s commitment to lawfully and correctly addressing the concerns of its workers.

Benefits of having a whistleblowing policy

There are countless benefits to a whistleblower policy. Not only will a policy help your business to outline its approach to whistleblower reports from a legal standpoint, but it can also have a number of other benefits. These include:

The business can resolve an issue quicker, as a result of encouraging a culture where employees report concerns of wrongdoing.

The business can provide support to those who need it.

A whistleblower policy recognises that workers are valuable eyes and ears for the business.

A whistleblower policy can ensure an employee has the option to make an anonymous disclosure or a confidential disclosure, where an employee has concerns regarding being treated differently by colleagues as a result of making a whistleblower report.

A whistleblower policy can act as a deterrent to behaviour which falls below certain standards, by formalising the employer’s position on wrongdoing, and its support for staff raising issues.

The existence of a well-drafted whistleblower policy can give a positive impression to a prospective investor who performs due diligence on your business.

Who is a whistleblower, exactly?

Whistleblowing is a term that’s bounced around a lot, but it helps to ask, who is a whistleblower exactly? Put simply, a whistleblower is an individual that raises concerns of wrongdoing regarding a business or entity and qualifies for whistleblower legal protections.

Here’s a typical whistleblowing procedure

Any whistleblowing policies or procedures should be clear, simple and easily understood. While there is no one size fits all solution, and actions will depend on the size of the business, there is a typical process that is likely to be followed. This might look like the below…

Step one: An employee informs an appropriate person of concerns they have of wrongdoing. This might be a manager, HR, or a “prescribed person”. Here the employee should say whether or not they want to remain anonymous. While they can do so verbally it would always be better for this to be in writing.

Step two: The employer or prescribed person will consider the concern and decide if any action is needed. If necessary, the employee may be asked for further information.

Step three: The employer or prescribed people can keep the employee informed about the action they’ve taken, but they cannot give much detail in circumstances where they have to keep information confidential about other people.

Step four: In the event that an employee believes a concern was not taken seriously, or the wrongdoing is still going on, they are able to raise the whistleblower report with someone else. This might be a senior member of staff, a prescribed person, or an external body.

A whistleblower report can have any number of results, including no further action, an independent inquiry, a criminal investigation, or an external audit.

Use this whistleblowing policy template

At Docue we’re determined to equip businesses with the legal documents they need to shield, advance, and empower their business. That’s why our whistleblower policy template is designed to prepare a business for whistleblower reports while empowering it to foster a culture of transparency, accountability, and high standards.

Just like all our template contracts and legal documents, the whistleblower policy template on the Docue platform is lawyer-made, lawyer-maintained, and has lawyer-crafted guidelines to steer you through every stage of drafting a whistleblower policy which is right for your business. So to create your whistleblower policy with confidence and speed, simply click through the intelligent tick box options and text box answers and you’ll have a comprehensive, tailored, and ready-to-use whistleblower policy in no time. The Docue platform also allows you to put the finishing and personal touches to your whistleblower policy with logos and footers. Once you are all done you can leverage Docue’s unlimited and automatic archive storage to keep your whistleblower policy safe and sound. As said above, whistleblower law in the UK is tricky and complex, so if you do get stuck just click the “Ask a lawyer” button in the app and Docue’s lawyers will be able to provide real-time support via instant chat.

Our whistleblower policy template covers a few key areas, including:

Who the whistleblower policy applies to: Whistleblower law covers a set group of workers, and some will not qualify for legal protection.

Who is responsible for the whistleblower policy: Whether that’s the board of directors or a defined role, responsibility will need to be taken for the effective use of this whistleblower policy.

What is whistleblowing: It’s important that a whistleblower policy is clear and easy to understand, which is why this whistleblower policy outlines in detail what classifies as whistleblowing.

Raising a whistleblowing concern: A whistleblower policy will need to outline the procedure relating to raising a concern. This includes who to raise a whistleblower report with, what to do if a matter is more serious, and what happens after a whistleblower report has been made.

Protection from retaliation: Whistleblowers qualify for a series of legal protections, and this whistleblower policy outlines in clear terms the protections for a whistleblower.

Confidentiality: There will be instances when a whistleblower might have concerns about repercussions for reporting. While there are protections against this, this whistleblower policy also sets out information relating to confidentiality for the whistleblower.

Investigation and outcome: This whistleblower policy explains the process for an investigation, an outcome, and what to do if an individual is not satisfied with an outcome.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, the above reflects the goals of our whistleblower policy template: to empower businesses to tackle whistleblower reports effectively, while advancing cultures that fight against unethical conduct.

Is your business in need of a business-bolstering whistleblower policy? Look no further than Docue’s whistleblower policy template.

Docue Legal Team

06/09/2022