Are Your Whistleblowing Arrangements Up To Scratch - Part 2
24th February 2021
Grievance or Whistleblowing?
There is no definitive differentiation between these two categorisations. It is for each organisation to choose what behaviour is covered by which mechanism. The following is a list of typical case types handled by an organisations Whistleblowing arrangements;
Theft, Fraud, Bribery and Corruption
Data Protection Issues
Regulatory Compliance Violation
Bullying and Harassment
Health and Safety Issues
Discrimination or Racism
If the behaviour is likely to impact people beyond those directly involved then you should consider the incident a whistleblowing report.
A 5 Step Process
1. Service Promotion
Individuals with concerns will only be able to report them using your whistleblowing arrangements if they are aware of their existence and confident in their use. Effective service promotion is key to discovering the highest possible proportion of damaging behaviour. There are a wide range of effective service promotion tools including;
Posters - placed in discrete areas (to facilitate confidentiality)
Leaflets - placed in discrete areas (to facilitate confidentiality)
Cards – placed on each desk or mailed to all staff detailing your arrangements
Intranet – an easily discoverable page detailing your arrangements
Website – a publicly available page detailing your arrangements
Training – all-staff training on the subject
Email – newsletters detailing arrangements and potentially news where appropriate
You should be looking to cover the following in any promotional material;
How to Report – telephone numbers and internet links (web reporting)
What to Report – explain appropriate circumstances to report using this method
Confidentiality – make it clear that their confidentiality will be protected – this is best achieved with an independent service.
Advice – an independent source of advice for whistleblowers (such as charities)
We have found that implementing an independent reporting service such as Safecall can almost instantaneously double the reporting rate as confidence increases in the impartiality of the service and promotional efforts are more effective.
The initial disclosure of a concern is vitally important. This is particularly true when the reporting party opts to remain anonymous (58% of cases). As follow-up with anonymous whistleblowers is challenging the likelihood of a positive outcome is highly dependent on the quality of the initial disclosure. Poor quality information when receiving cases can easily lead to a poor quality triage of the case, leaving the whistleblower frustrated and allowing the issue to persist and potentially worsen.
Barriers to reporting must also be minimised to encourage more people to come forward.
This can be achieved by offering;
a 3rd party independent reporting mechanism
a choice of reporting channels; in-person, telephone, webform, webchat
local language options
24/7 365 days a year reporting
allow the submission of documents, images or video evidence
Each whistleblowing case will need to be managed appropriately. During an initial assessment the following steps should be taken:
Suitability – should this case be managed under whistleblowing arrangements?
Risk – what is the risk of the behaviour continuing, occurring again or worsening?
Impact – what is the likely impact of the behaviour both past and future?
Protection – does the reporting person require protection?
Quality – is there enough information on which to take decisions?
Plan – what are the appropriate next steps (according to established frameworks)?
It is common for organisations to establish a Triage Framework which determines appropriate next steps according to a number of predefined criteria to promote consistency of approach. Factors such as the financial implications, potential reputational damage and regulatory exposure are often considered in terms of impact and likelihood to determine the appropriate action.
It is important to document these steps. This process should be fair and equitable as well as being subject to continuous review and improvement.
Where cases require further investigation, this should be carried out by suitable individuals with the following characteristics;
Appropriately Trained – how to manage and conduct investigations
Independent – impartial to the situation and parties involved
Resourced – the individual should have the time, tools and access to work effectively
Scope – clear terms of reference; what is being investigated and why
Discrete – protect at all times the identity and wellbeing of the reporting person and the integrity of any evidence
The reporting person should be kept informed of progress where appropriate. This provides reassurance that you have taken their concern seriously and are taking appropriate steps. This will help keep them engaged and should help them understand the outcome that is reached.
The conclusion of a case should always be recorded, including the reasoning behind the outcome. This may be as simple as a ‘no further action’ decision at the Triage stage. This may be appropriate if, for example, there is insufficient information, and no means to gather such information, to allow an investigation to progress. Outcomes of whistleblowing investigations typically involve some combination of the following;
No Further Action The concern was either deemed to be unfounded or resolved during/prior to the investigation process having been risk assessed at the triage stage. (The matter should still be monitored to detect reoccurrence.)
Management Action The matter is managed through typical line management channels.
Disciplinary Action The matter results in disciplinary action for one or more employees, the outcomes varying from an official warning to dismissal.
Judicial The matter is referred to the appropriate authorities for further action, outcomes varying from no further action to incarceration.
Training Often an issue has arisen due to ignorance of a policy, process or expected behaviour. In addition to any specific action taken, refreshing training for a team, office or workforce can prevent reoccurrence.
Controls Enhancement Issues often prompt a review of the controls environment in which the misconduct took place. Improvements in the control environment,including automation, validation, authorisation, notification and reporting reduce the risk of reoccurrence.
It is vital that organisations deliver effective outcomes. You should be confident that the actions taken throughout the process were fair, reasonable, unbiased and well recorded. Due to the seriousness of the matters being managed it is not uncommon for whistleblowing cases to result in disciplinary action and result in an employment tribunal. It is therefore important that your decisions are able to withstand independent scrutiny.
Your organisation needs to be confident in the use of all of the tools at their disposal to manage outcomes effectively. All too often cases are mishandled at this vital stage resulting in hard fought employment tribunals or arguable worse still the issue being allowed to persist.