Developed in the context of the Public Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA), workplace whistleblowing policies and procedures can address highly sensitive and emotive issues. Without appropriate training and support on how to handle such events senior management may panic, respond inappropriately, and exacerbate the situation further. The consequences of a badly handled complaint can be devastating, affecting all parts of the business.
Recognising the distinction between a grievance and whistleblowing is important in the context of policy and procedure development to clarify the correct process and help both managers and employees deal with the matter effectively.
A grievance is a matter of personal interest and does not impact on the wider public, for example a concern regarding inappropriate behaviour or conduct, harassment, or individual pay grade. A whistleblowing procedure, on the other hand, provides the framework for dealing with serious concerns affecting the wider public, including:
- A criminal offence has been, is being, or is likely to be committed
- Suspected fraud
- Malpractice or ill treatment of a client
- Repeated ill treatment of a client despite a complaint being made
A whistleblowing policy and procedure should also provide guidance for individual workers who believe they have no option than to raise their concern with an external body. In order to be protected under the Public Information Disclosure Act they must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Reasonably believe they would be victimised if they raised the matter internally
- Reasonably believe that a cover up is likely
- They had raised the matter internally and no action had been taken
An employee can blow the whistle to an outside “prescribed body”, as opposed to the employer and these bodies are listed by the government. Additionally, UK companies with business or potential activity inside the EU will also need to consider the EU’s 2021 Directive on whistleblowing, which lays down relevant obligations on small organisations.
Preventing malicious allegations
There are occasions when individuals may raise concerns in bad faith with an ulterior motive, for example a poor relationship with a colleague. The approach to cover these instances, clearly outlined in the whistleblowing procedure as below, can help to prevent such bad faith cases.
- Where it is determined that there is no case to answer, but the whistleblowing staff member had a genuine concern and was not acting in bad faith, the employer will ensure that the staff member suffers no reprisals or victimisation
- Where it is established that false allegations have been made in bad faith, it may be considered appropriate to refer to the disciplinary procedure
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