Responding to a whistleblower report is a delicate situation, and it is easy to make mistakes. The correct handling of a concern is crucial for any further outcomes or damage mitigation. Here is a guideline for some important dos and don’ts to follow when managing whistleblowing reports.
Managing whistleblowing reports – DO:
- Treat your employee with respect and sensitivity. Whistleblowers are often valued members of staff. Raising a concern may be very stressful for them, so they have taken a big step in coming forward.
- Make sure your company has an official reporting channel that employees can use, so they feel safe and free to disclose any issues.
- Follow your company’s whistleblowing policy, and make sure your employees are familiar with it. Ensure they have a copy of the company procedure for handling whistleblowing.
Reading tip > How to help employees understand your whistleblowing policy
- Listen actively, without being judgemental, and take notes. Ask for clarification where needed, and make sure to assess whether the issue is whistleblowing or a personal grievance. Try to differentiate between facts and opinions.
- Reassure your employee that their identity can be kept confidential. But also mention that some legal situations may require it to be disclosed. Make sure they know they can seek independent legal advice, either from the adviser at your company, or through an independent provider (e.g. like the UK based charity Protect).
- You may need to start an investigation into the claim – make sure to designate the appropriate level of resources and expertise.
- Reassure the whistleblower that they can expect to be told the outcome of the investigation. At the same time, also point out this might not be possible (e.g. other personal data might be sensitive).
- Remind the investigator that the whistleblower should receive feedback. Decide when and what this feedback should be, as well as who will provide it. The EU Whistleblowing law requires feedback to be within 3 months.
Managing whistleblowing reports – DON’T:
- Whatever you do, don’t punish your employee for reporting their concerns. Many countries offer special protection for whistleblowers against any retaliation from their employer. This is the main aim of the EU Whistleblowing Directive and requirement of member states’ whistleblowing law.
- Reprisals are bad not only for PR reasons, but may also result in claims against the company. Remind your employee that if they do face any retaliation at all, they should report it to you as soon as possible.
- Don’t allow your emotions to cloud your judgement, when listening to their whistleblowing claim. The same goes for any opinions you might have about the employee.
- Don’t be tempted to try to brush the concerns under the carpet. Apart from the obvious negative consequences, ignoring a whistleblower could be breaking the law.
- Equally, don’t try to hide any evidence of misconduct or unacceptable behaviour.
- Handle the situation with sensitivity and integrity, even if the employee’s concern isn’t actually to do with whistleblowing. Similarly, if the claim turns out to be unfounded, don’t punish or judge the employee – they may have had good reasons for their concerns. Remember that whistleblowing can save lives, so don’t discourage anyone from reporting their suspicions. If the investigation returns no support for their claim, providing lots of details to the whistleblower can help them accept the outcome.
- Don’t react negatively to any concerns regarding health or safety, even if you feel the complaint isn’t valid. Employees must always be sure that everyone’s safety is taken seriously.
Tip! If you’re an organisation in the EU with over 50 employees then you need to implement a channel to receive and manage whistleblowing reports. Take a look at the requirements of the EU Whistleblowing Directive.
If you’re already considering implementing a whistleblowing process in your organisation and would like to know more about best practice, get in touch and we’d be happy to help.