Whistleblowing From Home - Whistleblowing and Covid 19
12th August 2020
Whistleblowing from Home
COVID19 has resulted in an unprecedented shift of working practices with the whole of the UK and most of the world encouraged to work from home for a prolonged period. I am writing this from my desk at home having not set foot in my office for almost 5 months. Now with a pattern of local spikes emerging many firms have extended their home working policies into 2021 it looks as though we aren’t going back to the office en-mass for some time and it is unlikely that we will ever have working arrangements as we did earlier in January.
Now that the dust has begun to settle into a new normal it is a good time to take stock and start to see how the working landscape has shifted. We have seen two significant trends emerge over the last 6 months.
Approximately 25% of whistleblowing cases since March 2020 have related to COVID-19. As Safecall was transitioning to home working in the first days of the UK lockdown we saw record case volumes as organisations grappled with their response to such a radical shift in ways of working. Employees were suddenly understandably anxious about both their physical safety and their job security.
Of the cases directly relating to COVID-19;
37% were classified as ‘Health and Safety’ cases. These cases relate to employee concerns around safety precautions relating to the virus, working from home, social distancing, hand washing, deep cleaning and so on.
47% were classified as ‘Unfair Treatment’ cases. As the effects of the lockdowns began to bite some employees will have been made redundant, others may have felt pressured to return to the office or even work while furloughed.
The remaining 16% related to a mixture of ‘Policy’, ‘Reputation’ and ‘Bullying and Harassment’ cases which would share characteristics with the above.
Arguably deserving more attention than the cases relating directly to COVID are the cases not being reported. These can be grouped into two sets;
We have seen a 31% drop in the number of cases relating to ‘Bullying and Harassment’. It is entirely possible that some of the unwanted behaviours were opportunistic and as such are no longer occurring when employees are working remotely. Another possibility is that the perpetrators are aware that it is easy to record remote interactions for evidential purposes so are choosing not to behave inappropriately. Another possible explanation is that this behaviour is no longer being witnessed, preventing reporting by witnesses or encouragement to victims.
We have also seen significant reductions in concerns relating to Integrity and Corruption (-41%) and Substance Abuse (-38%). It is highly likely that these activities are still taking place but are now hidden from view. This presents a significant issue for HR and Compliance departments to ensure standards are met when employees are less frequently observed.
During this period we have also seen an increase reported cases of Racism and Discrimination (+26%). It is not clear whether this is a result of changes in working conditions due to COVID-19, as the #metoo movement encouraged people to speak out against Sexual Harassment the Black Lives Matter movement is encouraging people to speak out against Racism and Discrimination.
It would likely be beneficial for organisations to review their conduct policies and remind workers of the requirement to comply with the organisations policies and code of conduct and the consequences of failing to do so. This may also be supported by a refresh of virtual conduct training.
As nations tentatively emerge from COVID-19 related restrictions we must behave responsibly and look after our colleagues. It is clear is that the sands have shifted when we look at working patterns. We must all stay vigilant, identify and call out harmful behaviours to keep our (remote) workplaces safe and secure whatever form working patterns take in the future.
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