Whistleblowing laws are being discussed within the government. On 27th March, the Department for Business and Trade announced that the government would review whistleblowing laws. This review will look at whether the current laws are enabling employees to speak up effectively and evidence will be gathered up until autumn of 2023.
Whistleblowing is the act of disclosing information about a harmful activity. Since the pandemic, the UK has seen plenty of whistleblowing cases wherein employees have come forward and informed the higher-ups about wrongdoings in the office. “Wrongdoing” in this case can be anything from someone committing fraud to unsafe working conditions.
While workers are protected when they talk about these issues or “blow the whistle”, under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA), there is still room for more protection. This is why the government has decided to strengthen the policies and create an environment where employees feel safe to come forward.
Elaborating more about this, Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake says that the UK was one of the first countries to create a framework. He also says that reviewing the present laws has been on his list of priorities for a long time, and this review is crucial to determine what needs to be done for the effective operation of these laws.
Whistleblowing Laws: Scope and Focus
According to the announcement, the review will focus on key topics such as:
- Who is protected under the whistleblowing laws,
- How whistleblowing-related information is made available to protected people and,
- How more information on best practices, and how employers should respond to whistleblowing cases.
One of the biggest reasons this has taken priority is that employees are not comfortable with whistleblowing. There is a fear of facing negative consequences such as termination or harassment, even if they are protected by PIDA. Additionally, many employers may not be aware of what to do in a whistleblowing case which may prevent employees from speaking up, as they feel no proper action will be taken.
A survey by the Institute of Business Ethics in 2018 showed that only 34% of UK employees are comfortable speaking up about misconduct. And while it may not seem like a lot, this was an increase from the previous year as only 29% had said they were comfortable.
Another survey by CIPD in 2021 revealed that only 48% of employees were aware of whistleblowing policies in their workplace. In fact, in 2020, a survey by law firm Irwin Mitchell revealed that around 22% of employees had indeed witnessed wrongdoing but did not report it.
This goes to show that despite there being laws in place by the government, as well as workplace policies, the mere existence of these laws is not enough. Hence the review of current policies couldn’t have come at a better time as it plans to focus on making whistleblowing information more easily accessible.
Making Whistleblowing Policies Effective
This review calls for more scrutiny and the possibility of better legislative reforms in the future which will help smoothen the issues that the UK workforce is facing regarding whistleblowing.
To begin with, educating the workforce and making them more aware of whistleblowing policies is a must. It is not just the responsibility of the government but also the responsibility of every workplace to take the time for more whistleblowing training and guidance.
Additionally, there is a need for mandatory policies in the offices that protect employees, shareholders, clients, associates or essentially, anyone who could come forward about wrongdoing. And when it comes to enforcing these policies, employers and people in higher managerial roles need to be well-versed in the process, so employees don’t feel like their risk of disclosing information is going to waste.