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Charities Call for More Whistleblower Protection

Charities Call for More Whistleblower Protection

Employment law polcies to protect whistle blowers

Charities have called for companies to offer more protection to employees who expose wrongdoing, after Barclays chief executive Jes Staley admitted trying to unmask a whistleblower.

Mr Staley could lose his annual bonus after two regulators opened an investigation into his conduct in a whistleblowing case. The Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority will investigate after it emerged he had tried to discover who wrote anonymous whistleblowing letters to the bank. The letters are said to have raised concerns about a senior employee – understood to be a friend of Mr Staley’s – who had been recruited by Barclays earlier that year. According to an investigation, Mr Staley had “considered the letters were an unfair personal attack.”

There are strict regulations in the financial services industry about encouraging and protecting whistleblowers. This includes the senior managers and certification regime, which is aimed at improving individual accountability within the financial services industry.

Persistent negative attitude to whistleblowers, says charity

Public Concern at Work, a charity for whistleblowers, said that the Staley case demonstrated there was “much work to be done” to ensure whistleblowers are more robustly protected. Last year the whistleblowing charity advised on 130 cases involving individuals working in the financial sector, compared with 98 in 2015 and 102 in 2014.

The charity has previously identified what it described as a “pernicious” attitude by public and private employers towards whistleblowers, with a 2015 report indicating that the negative perception of whistleblowing among employees persists. The charity reported that 50% of those who called the charity had either been dismissed or forced to resign after blowing the whistle.

Meanwhile Leon Martin, the managing director of GoodCorporation, a consultancy that advises businesses on ethics, said in the light of the Staley case:

“Whistleblowing is an essential component of good corporate governance which needs to be embraced at the top of an organisation. An effective board will ensure that the right culture is in place, paying particular heed to employee confidence in raising concerns and to monitoring the ways in which they are dealt with. Avoiding any form or repercussion or detriment is essential.”

What can employers do to encourage workers to report breaches of the law?

Employers are advised to foster a culture where workers feel confident and secure about reporting any wrongdoing.

A positive environment can be built that encourages employees to report breaches of the law by ensuring that whistleblowing law is fully understood. To be counted as whistleblowing, the employee must reasonably believe that the information to be disclosed relates to one of six categories: a criminal offence; a breach of any legal obligation; a miscarriage of justice; danger to the health and safety of an individual; damage to the environment; or the deliberate concealment of information about any of these. It is not enough to gather information or simply threaten to make a disclosure.

Policies should be detailed in plain English and employers should think about the support they can provide to those who come forward – for example, an offer of counselling. A company should have a designated whistleblowing officer who can appoint a person or team to undertake an investigation of the allegations. Employees should be reminded that they are protected by law from being subject to detriment as a result of their actions. Compensation for detriment can be awarded, as well as for injury to feelings.

Whistleblowers at greater risk in digital age

At study by the Advanced Institute of Legal Studies at London University suggests whistleblowers need better legal protection as they have become easier to identify in the digital era. The report, Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in a Digital Age, says journalists find it increasingly difficult to safeguard the anonymity of their sources due to the monitoring and interception of online and phone conversations. The report follows the publication earlier this month of a Law Commission review, which suggested that prison sentences for leaking official information could be significantly increased.

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