What Is Workplace Whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing in the workplace is a process where an employee, (the whistleblower), reports to an authorised person a certain type of wrongdoing, misconduct or illegal act made by another employee or by the company itself.
“Whistleblowing examples can include criminal activity, such as theft, or unethical or unjust behaviour in the workplace, including racist, sexist or homophobic behaviour,” What is Whistleblowing at Work? | Health Assured. However, personal grievances, (including bullying, harassment, discrimination), are not covered by whistleblowing law, unless the case is in public interest.
In the workplace, procedures for handling whistleblowing, and whistleblowers, can vary company to company. “Employees can also submit a report externally to the appropriate industry or government body,” Workplace Whistleblowing: What Your Board Needs to Know.
However, as a new EU Whistleblower Protection Directive comes into play, the rules have become more defined and a greater protection across EU countries for whistleblowers has been enforced.
The December 2021 EU Whistleblower Protection Directive
The Purpose and Who is Affected?
On December 17, 2021, the EU Member States implemented a new EU Whistleblower Protection Directive into national law. The purpose of the directive is to provide greater protection across EU countries for those wanting to expose breaches of EU law. Employees who ‘blow the whistle,’ must now have clear reporting channel options, be protected and receive no negative retaliations against them.
EU companies and public bodies with 250 or more employees must execute the defined reporting system. From 2023, this will change to include organisations that have 50 or more workers.
However, even if an organisation doesn't match the criteria, it may still have to comply. Some member states may choose to freely implement further rules or extend them to smaller organisations, depending on the nature of their activities – especially if those activities pose risks to public health, climate change or the environment.
Although it is a scheme that must be applied to all employees, the directive doesn’t just apply to employees alone. Self-employed contractors, workers, volunteers, non-executive directors, shareholders, suppliers and contractors are all covered within the directive.
The new directive also states that penalties will be applied to those workplace ‘whistleblowers’ who make false reports or to any organisation not correctly implementing the rules. “The Directive obliges member states to impose effective and proportionate sanctions on companies and public bodies that do not adhere to the reporting system, including failing to maintain the confidentiality of whistleblowers and hindering attempts to report breaches.” The Whistleblower Directive: key points explained and actions to take | Perspectives | Reed Smith LLP.
So, what are the key EU Whistleblowing Protection Directive requirements? If an organisation now fits the 250 employees and above criteria, it will need to address several key requirements designed to enable safe reporting, clarity and protect whistleblowers. The key requirements include:
- Safe and accessible reporting channels
- Ensuring workers know when and where to report wrongdoing
- Protecting confidentiality of whistleblowers and those involved
- Promptly acknowledging receipt of reports and providing feedback within seven days
- Providing an update on the investigation within three months of the initial report
- Protecting whistleblowers from dismissal, demotion or other forms of workplace retaliation
- Keeping a record of reports for no longer than necessary to comply with GDPR data keeping rules
Businesses and public bodies can opt to investigate whistleblowing claims internally or appoint an external body to do so on their behalf.
Five Whistleblowing Tips Board Members Need to Know
It’s not just about following the new rules. Once a whistleblowing procedure has been implemented, it needs to be continuously monitored to ensure it successfully operates, complies and supports all employee needs. But how do you know if it’s working? Below are five tips that senior board members can use to measure the success and challenges of their businesses' whistleblowing system:
1) If employees are not raising concerns, it’s not good news. Just because reports are not being made, doesn’t mean misconduct isn’t taking place within the workplace. In fact, 85% of Europeans believe that workers very rarely, or rarely, ever report their concerns. It is far more beneficial to encourage employees to raise their concerns so that they can be identified and resolved earlier on, otherwise, situations that remain unchecked can quickly escalate into a crisis.
2) Following point one, therefore, receiving more whistleblowing reports is generally a good thing. An organisation’s board members need to know that receiving a high number of whistleblowing reports is typically good for business. Certainly, report quality goes over report quantity, yet, it is a common misconception that receiving whistleblowing reports is a sign of an unhealthy culture and an underperforming business. In fact, organisations that receive a high number of whistleblowing reports are 46% less likely to receive negative media stories.
3) Employees must trust the whistleblowing program. Board members need to understand that employees will only raise their concerns if they trust the whistleblowing program. To achieve this, workers must feel safe from negative retaliation and believe every report will be investigated promptly and thoroughly. Currently, 80% of workers do not raise reports due to the fear of legal consequences and 35% of employees do not raise reports as they believe nothing will be done.
4) The more reporting communication channels provided; the more reports will be received. Employees will have varying preferences on which reporting methods to use when raising their concerns. To maximise employee engagement with a whistleblowing programme, board members should aim to provide a vast range of reporting channels such as web, telephone, mobile, and in-person.
5) An effective whistleblowing process can bring significant benefits to the wider compliance programme. Companies that implement a successful whistleblowing procedure can gain additional insights into their employees’ mindsets. Organisations that embrace whistleblowing as an important source of information find that managers have better information to make decisions and control risk. Therefore, senior management can build a stronger workplace culture by connecting the whistleblowing programme with the broader compliance framework.
Many globally common factors, such as the rise in awareness surrounding the ethical treatment of people, mental health, COVID-19 and workplace human rights, bring the topic of whistleblowing to the forefront in the media and for businesses. With the EU Whistleblowing Protection Directive now in place, it is more important than ever for companies to put into action the new rules, whilst encouraging employees to do what’s right.
Staying in compliance with the directive and other global regulations regarding whistleblowing necessitates the use of incident management software. This solution must be scalable, comprehensive and promoted throughout the organisation in order to be effective.
To learn more about the NAVEX E&C solution, and how it can help keep your company compliant with the EU Directive and support your business whistleblowing goals and challenges, click here.