Wednesday, 21 August 2019 13:38

The Drive for UK Whistleblowing Reform Gaining Momentum.

Whistleblowing is one of the most cost-effective means of enabling businesses to protect themselves from the negative impacts of unethical behaviour. It is the first line of defence against crime, fraud and corruption found across businesses. As such, it is vital that whistleblowers are fully protected without fear of being victimised or even dismissed.

The UK's Public Information Disclosure Act 1998 was introduced in order to ensure there was comprehensive protection in place for employees so that they could come forward and report serious wrongdoing in their workplace. Protected disclosures included disclosures such as reporting that a criminal offence had been committed, a failure to comply with statutory legislation or that a miscarriage of justice has occurred.

Whilst perceived as ground-breaking at the time, ultimately the legislation failed to live up to its main purpose which was to provide comprehensive protection for whistleblowers. Indeed, many whistleblowers have often become the victims of retaliation from businesses who place a greater emphasis on protecting their own reputations than protecting those within their organisation who had the courage to speak up.

These failings resulted in the forming of an All-Party Parliamentary Group for whistleblowing (APPG) to work through an ambitious workplan to identify where the law fails to adequately protect whistleblowers and to look at the case for an independent office for the whistleblower. In less than 12 months they collected and assessed over 400 pieces of evidence from whistleblowers.

In July 2019, the APPG produced a report which included several key recommendations.

  • The term ‘whistleblower’ must be defined in law
  • Whistleblower protection should include all members of the public, not just workers
  • Mandatory internal and external reporting mechanisms and protections should be adopted
  • Improved access to legal representation for whistleblowers
  • Non-disclosure agreements in whistleblowing cases must be banned
  • The introduction and establishment of an independent office for the whistleblower with real power to set standards, enforce the protections and administer meaningful penalties.

Brexit Implications

As reported here, the report comes at a time of far-reaching changes in legislation across Europe which guarantees a higher level of protection for whistleblowers and will require that employers with more than 50 employees are obligated to introduce formal whistleblowing procedures. Should the UK tumble out of Europe in October 2019, the new EU Directive rules will not apply although it is likely that many UK businesses, particularly those whose activities cross European boundaries, may decide to mirror their whistleblowing policies and procedures with their European neighbours.

Whilst it is too early to say whether UK legislation will change, either as a result of the Parliamentary proposals or because of pressure applied for the UK to create similar protections to those afforded to European citizens, the drive for UK whistleblowing reform is gaining momentum.

External whistleblowing service providers can assist in the implementation of whistleblowing services to comply with the forthcoming changes in EU whistleblowing laws. SeeHearSpeakUp is a global independent and external whistleblowing service provider. If you would like information about implementation of our whistleblowing services, please contact our sales team on +44(0)1224 625111 or visit our website here.

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