Whistle blowing seems to be in the news almost constantly at the moment. High profile cases include Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks Founder, who is currently holed up in Equador’s embassy in London.
And Edward Snowden is currently attempting to evade US jurisdiction and, at the time of writing this blog, is likely air-side in Moscow, working out his next move.
Stafford Hospital and in particular nurse Helen Donnelly were in the news in April 2013. She had a valid reason for whistle blowing, at the time suffering problems at work for attempting to do the right thing. She has since been appointed Ambassador for Cultural Change by the local NHS Trust, an acknowledgement that her whistle blowing was indeed valid.
From June 2013 there is a new piece of legislation in England and Wales. Now anyone blowing the whistle must reasonably believe that the disclosure they are making is in the public’s interest. If this does not stand, then there is no protection from dismissal. From the cynical viewpoint, it’s perhaps designed to stop employees deciding to ‘blow the whistle’ through spite.
There is a place for protection of employees, like Helen, who genuinely believe they have to tell someone about a serious work issue which is being ‘swept under the carpet’.
There have been many cases where a disgruntled employee declared problems within a firm and not all were justified. Maliciously blowing the whistle is certainly a good way to cause problems for a firm. In the past many employees have done this and then hidden behind the whistle blowing legislation. Many a firm has been destroyed this way and the new legislation goes some way to discourage this.
So what can a firm to do to mitigate against whistle blowing?
Openly tell staff what they should do if they believe there is an issue that warrants disclosure. Firms who are open and communicate with staff about how to disclose will find they have little problem with actual disclosures. The simple act of explaining how to disclose and who to speak to shows a positive attitude. This suggests a firm who cares about staff. It suggests a firm where the need for whistle blowing is low.
So, take stock. What type of firm are you?