Audrey Williams, partner and head of discrimination at Eversheds, has commented on a recently issued Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report that is highly critical of the treatment of whistleblowers and a perceived failure by government to introduce effective law.
The report concludes that in many cases employees do not know to whom they should report wrongdoing or malpractice in the workplace or, if they do so, that they are likely to face bullying and victimisation.
The report also finds considerable disconnect between whistleblowing policies in the workplace, which suggest a supportive approach, and how employers operate in practice.
Williams said: ‘We are given to understand that improved guidance will also follow. The government has committed to work with appropriate bodies to develop new guidance, principally to dispel misunderstandings.
‘In fact, the process of encouraging a change in attitudes and behaviours has already begun through changes last year, which, for many employers, will have sneaked under the radar, such as the introduction of employer liability for harassment or detrimental treatment by colleagues and personal liability placed on individuals.’
A future addition to the whistleblowing armoury, likely to be in force next year, said Williams, is a new obligation upon regulators to report whistleblowing allegations. The legislation provides that whistleblowing claims can only be raised outside of the organisation to certain ‘prescribed persons’, such as commissioners of HMRC, the Food Standards Agency and the Office of Fair Trading.
Williams continued: ‘The government believes they have an important role and should be encouraged to be more proactive. As a result, it will soon be a legal requirement for prescribed persons to report annually upon whistleblowing allegations received. This will reduce further employer ability to suppress misdemeanours — or worse, criminal activity.’