While there is no obligation on employers to publicise the rights and protections available to employees in these circumstances, many organisations have taken the decision to introduce a whistleblowing policy. There is a clear benefit in doing so from an employee's perspective as a policy should define what would class as a qualifying disclosure in terms of PIDA, the appropriate process to be followed when making such a disclosure and also set out the protections available. However, there are also benefits from an employer's perspective as such a policy may encourage internal disclosure of wrongdoing and assist employers to act in line with legislation and manage risk, with a view to resolving any concerns at as early a stage as possible.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has produced guidance on whistleblowing for employers. This guidance - Whistleblowing: Guidance for Employers and Code of Practice - highlights best practice for employers introducing a whistleblowing policy and recommends the following:
- Publicise the introduction of the whistleblowing policy. Staff could be made aware of this through training sessions and also through publications, such as leaflets and posters. It is also worthwhile including the whistleblowing policy in the induction process for new staff, as well as ensuring that refresher sessions are held for existing staff on a regular basis to remind them of the existence of the policy and its purpose.
- Train staff on when it is appropriate to make a disclosure (as well as on the other avenues for raising concerns, such as via a grievance process) and on the process to be followed when making a disclosure. Managers should also be trained on the process to be followed once a disclosure has been made. Employers may also wish to consider having a dedicated whistleblowing team to deal with investigating disclosures and resolving any concerns raised.
- Develop a culture in which staff are encouraged to disclose wrongdoing without fear of suffering any detriment, such as lack of career progression, as a consequence.
- Where appropriate, take steps to protect the identity of an employee who makes a disclosure. However, care will require to be taken where a disclosure is made on an anonymous basis, particularly if there is a lack of information or a concern that the disclosure has not been made in good faith.
- Keep employees informed about the timing of any action to be taken, such as the progress of any investigation into the disclosure that has been made.
Employers should also consider the possibility of introducing an external whistleblowing helpline. While clear parameters would require to be agreed in relation to the operation of such a helpline, an external provider would likely be perceived by employees as a sign that whistleblowing concerns were being treated seriously by the employer and concerns were being investigated in an impartial and independent manner.