Whistle-blowing is not a new phenomenon but one which has been heavily publicised in recent years. High profile whistle-blowers include Edward Snowden, who is reported to have leaked classified National Security Agency documents, and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.
Another high profile whistle-blower case was that of Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, who blew the whistle on the Russian athlete state sponsored doping programme and identified how, at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the Russian state swapped steroid tainted urine samples with clean samples.
Although these above are extreme examples of whistleblowing, it raises the question, are management doing enough to encourage whistleblowing in their organisations? Are there proper policies and procedures in place to investigate tips? Is there sufficient protection for the whistle-blower?
A recent survey conducted by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners identified that 40% of frauds within the workplace are identified by whistle-blowers, with over half of these tips being made by employees.
It is important that both management and employees understand the protection that is afforded to whistle-blowers. Here in Northern Ireland the current Public Interest Disclosure (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 seeks to protect those who blow the whistle on wrong doing in the workplace.
However, despite this legislative protection there is an apparent reluctance amongst employees in coming forward for fear of losing their job and/or being victimised. For example a recent survey of staff in hospitals, care homes and social service providers in Northern Ireland found 44% of those who raised concerns to senior management said they suffered as a result.
For whistle-blowing to work effectively for both management and employees it is vital that internal policies set out clearly the whistle-blowing process and the protection available to employees.
The consequences of not investigating tips properly are vast, leaving organisations exposed to negative publicity and potentially very hefty fines.
Take for example the Olympus Corporation of the Americas who settled their lawsuit with the Justice Department of America in 2016 for $646million after a whistle-blower blew the whistle on their illegal sales practices. Under the False Claims Act’s whistle-blower reward provisions the whistle-blower received $51million from this settlement.
The benefit of whistle blowers to a business cannot be underestimated. A good tip from a whistle-blower can ensure wrong doing within a company is quickly identified. If reported internally this allows management to investigate the matter away from the public media spotlight and resolve the issue before hefty fines may be imposed.
In reality, there is little choice other than to investigate any whistle-blower claims that are received by your organisation. It is vital that any investigation is robust and you choose an investigator who is impartial and appropriately skilled to handle such delicate matters.