GUIDE TO THE WHISTLE-BLOWING ACT

Section 3

Putting a whistle-blowing policy in place

You will want:
• Employees to tell you about any suspected impropriety or corruption
• Your employees to raise concerns with you directly
• Employees and all levels of management to understand and accept that it is safe for staff to raise concerns internally
• Managers to deal with concerns properly

You will not want:
• Unnecessary wider, public disclosures
• A whistle-blower being victimised in breach of the Act
• To expose your department to a substantial claim for damages
• To invite an inappropriate investigation by regulators
• The risk of damaging your department’s reputation

Remember

A whistle-blowing policy ought not to be seen as merely a means of complying with yet another piece of employment legislation. If it is to help you create an environment where the staff understands their responsibilities and management demonstrates their accountability, it will not be enough to introduce a good policy only to file it away. You must take action and actively implement the policy. It is import ant to ensure that workers are left in no doubt about the avenues open to them.

Ten points to consider when putting a whistle- blowing policy in place

1. Make it clear, through a consultative process, to management and workers alike that it is both safe and acceptable for workers and management to raise concerns about wrongdoing. Display this consensus-based policy in writing.

2. Review procedures and rules on reporting concerns. If you have none, use a consultative process to generate these rules and procedures. Remember that if employees reasonably believe they will be victimised, protection for a wider public general disclosure is triggered.

3. Where concerns are raised by workers, respond within agreed time frames (and be able to demonstrate a response) to the message. Do not shoot the messenger!

4. Where a protected disclosure has been made, take all reasonable steps to try to ensure that no colleague, manager or other person under your control victimises the whistle-blower. If you need to keep the identity of the whistle-blower confidential, then use all reasonable means to do so.

5. Check the confidentiality clauses in contracts of employment.

6. Evaluate your organisational st r ucture and decide on a senior person in the department to whom confidential disclosures can be made. This person must have the authority and deter mina tion to act if concerns are not raised with - or properly dealt with by - immediate line management.

7. Publicise your success stories.

8. Ensure managers understand how to act if a concern is raised. Ensure that they understand that employees have the right to blow the whistle.

9. Consider whether you need to make use of an independent advice centre in understanding and using this legislation.

10. Introduce and promote a whistle- blowing policy.

In establishing a policy keep in mind:

Understanding the issue
• Asking your employees to keep their eyes open is a key way to promote, display and ensure good practice. If you successfully involve your employees, it should give a clear message to those who are tempted that they will not get away with it and everyone else will soon see that you are serious about tackling any form of wrongdoing.
• Listen to the employees and to their sense of right and wrong. Explain what fraud in the organisation is, its effect on their jobs and the service they provide. Be as clear about the effects of other forms of serious wrongdoing. Get any staff bodies or union to back and promote this approach.

Ensure employees see the policy in action
• Employees need to know what practices are unacceptable (e.g. what is appropriate in terms of hospitality, gifts). They should be encouraged to ask management if something is appropriate before - not after - the event.
• When you find serious wrongdoing (whether by employees, contractors or the public), deal with it seriously. Remember you cannot expect your employees to practise higher standards than those you apply.

Be open to concerns
• Remember - it is never easy to report a concern, particularly one which may turn out to be fraud or corruption.
• Try to ensure that management is open to such concerns before they become par t of a grievance and do not let management’s lack of action itself become a grievance.
• Make it clear that you will support concerned employees and protect them from reprisals. Do everything you can to respect their confidentiality, if requested.
• Aside from line management, make sure employees have another route to raise a concern. This should be to a senior official such as a director-general. Tell employees how they can contact that person
in confidence.
• Remind employees of relevant external routes if they do not have confidence to raise the concern internally. Reassure them that they can approach other independent organisations for confidential advice.

Dealing with concerns
• Remember there are two sides to every story.
• Respect and heed legitimate employee concerns about their own safety or career.
• Emphasise to both management and to staff that victimising employees or deterring them from raising a concern about wrong- doing is a disciplinary offence.
• Make it clear that abusing this process by raising unfounded allegations maliciously is a disciplinary matter.
• Offer to report back to the concerned employee about the out- come of the investigation and, where possible, on any action that is proposed.