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Blow that whistle baby!

Whistle-blowing is possibly one of the most commonly misunderstood areas of HR and y'all know me, I like to make sure you've got all the info you need to protect your business.

So let's get stuck in shall we?

What does whistle-blowing mean?

When an employee or worker "blows the whistle" it means they are making something called a protected disclosure. Three Acts within UK law provide special protections to employees and workers who raise protected, qualifying disclosures of information where the employee or worker reasonably believes the any of the following has, is or is likely to occur:

1. a criminal offence (the offence can be minor or serious)

2. a failure by a person to comply with any legal obligation to which he or she is subject.

3. a 'miscarriage of justice'

4. danger to the health or safety of any individual

5. damage to the environment

6. the deliberate concealment of information about any of the above.

Who should disclosures be made to?

Protected disclosures can be made to:

  • The employer; who should then follow their internal whistle-blowing procedure.

  • The person believed to be legally responsible for the situation.

  • A legal adviser.

  • A government minister where the employer is appointed under an Act of Parliament.

  • A prescribed person such as a relevant body like HMRC or other regulator.

What should I do if I receive a whistle-blowing complaint?

Hopefully, you will have some epic HR support in place to help you, but the main thing is to follow a procedure. Firstly, you need to identify whether the complaint is a legitimate whistle-blow or whether it is a grievance.

A grievance usually relates to the employee who is making the complaint and it's usually not about one of the six topics listed above. So for example, a whistle-blow might be about an employee who has noticed another employee failing to follow health and safety regulations and putting themselves or others at risk.

Once you know that your complaint is a whistle-blow, you will need to conduct an investigation. The investigation process will be very similar to the process for investigating a grievance in that you will need to meet with the whistle-blower to gain clarity around the complaint. From there, you can investigate alleged incidents, interview witnesses and gather relevant documentation.

Your investigation report will either substantiate or refute the whistle-blowing allegations which will enable you to provide a response to your whistle-blower. You should detail the findings of the report but remember not to specify whether you'll be disciplining anyone as that's confidential!

If the allegations are substantiated, the investigation report will then form the basis of any subsequent disciplinary action.

As always, the absolute best thing you can do if you're not sure about this stuff is, ask! Us HR folk know how complex these situations can be, so don't struggle on your own.


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