Belfast Telegraph

Speak-Up – “In Confidence, with Confidence”

Gareth Barton
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It is safe to say that Covid-19 has changed the way in which we all live and work, but what the pandemic has also highlighted is the role that a Whistleblower may play in many of our lives, both in everyday business and personal matters.

“Protect”, a whistleblowing advice service, recently published a report titled, “Whistleblowing during Covid-19”. This Report considers the concerns that Whistleblowers had raised with the “Protect” advice line in the first six months of the Covid-19 lockdown, between March and September 2020. During this six-month period, Protect received 638 queries, relating to Covid-19 concerns. The Report identified a key finding that employers ignored circa 41% of the above Covid-19 related concerns. This raises the obvious question; are employers doing enough to deal with whistleblowing concerns raised by their employees?

As an employer, implementing a whistleblowing policy can help overcome a number of problems and may have other advantages, too. It may encourage internal disclosures, and if alerted to any wrongdoing at an early stage, the employer may have the opportunity to resolve the matter before any serious and potential public damage occurs. The implementation of a whistleblowing policy will formalise and clearly set out the process to be adopted and facilitate an understanding for all staff on how protected disclosures shall be dealt with by the organisation. It is imperative that direction should come from the top to ensure a culture of openness and transparency, particularly when dealing with a Whistleblower’s concerns. 

A guiding principle for any organisation must be that its employees feel able to speak-up and to be heard, safe in the knowledge that the concerns will be taken seriously, investigated fully, and not be dismissed by their employer.

Earlier this year, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) launched a new campaign called, “In confidence, with confidence”. The campaign’s focus is on the financial services sector, and encourages individuals working in the sector to report potential wrongdoing to the FCA.

The FCA published materials for organisations to share with their employees and it produced a digital toolkit for industry bodies, consumer groups, and whistleblowing groups, in order to facilitate and encourage individuals who may have concerns to have the confidence to step forward.

Whistleblowers that make a disclosure to the FCA will have a dedicated case manager to deal with the concerns raised in the disclosure. Disclosers can meet with a representative of the FCA to discuss their concerns and can receive regular updates throughout the investigation process. Every disclosure the FCA receives shall be reviewed, and the FCA will protect the identity of the Whistleblower. This also includes not disclosing the existence of a Whistleblower when making enquiries, unless legally obliged to do so.

Effective “Speak-Up” policies are vital to instil stakeholder confidence that employers are doing all they can to deal with employees’ concerns, with the implementation of a robust whistleblowing policy and dealing with any alleged wrongdoing in a clear and transparent manner without fear and retribution.