A cross party group of UK MP's have recently called for enhanced protection for UK "whistle blowers" and action at the EU level is also in the pipeline to enhance whistle blower rights.
APPG Findings and Recommendations
In 1998 the UK was the first EU state tointroducelegislative protection for individuals who expose wrongdoing or perceived wrongdoing on the part of an organisation, often their employer, with general protections later supplemented by special initiatives in the banking and health sectors. Despite these initiatives, however, cases continue to emerge where whistle blowers have been ignored or suffered retaliation by organisations determined to protect their reputation. In light of this the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Whistleblowing was launched in July 2018 and in July they published a report on their findings.
Commenting on the evidence received the APPG report noted that:
Many testimonies were difficult to read or hear and have reinforced our commitment to put whistleblowers at the top of the agenda and deliver real protection. We have heard first-hand of the price they have paid: mental trauma and impact on whistleblowers and their families, loss and damage to careers, the cost of litigation, blacklisting and the use of NDAs to silence whistleblowers and cover up wrongdoing
The APPG has made a number of detailed recommendations for changes to the UK regime to broaden its scope, create more effective remedies and encourage and protect whistle blowers. These include a broadening of the current statutory protections, a public awareness campaign to raise awareness of whistle blower rights and also the establishment of an "Independent Office for the Whistleblower" with powers to set standards, enforce protections, and administer meaningful penalties to not only organisations but also individuals within organisations.
Future EU developments in the pipeline
Businesses also need to be aware of other changes coming through at the EU level. A new EU Whistleblower Directive is expected to come into effect in 2021 covering all employers of more than 50 employees. This will require such employers to adopt formal whistleblowing procedures and will establish certain other protections for whistle blowers.
What should businesses be considering in response?
Whilst there is no certainty that any of the specific APPG proposals will gain traction and parliamentary time, all businesses would be well advised to consider the report and reflect critically on the robustness of their own procedures and practices. As the report notes, effective procedures are good for business:
Whistleblowing is one of the most effective means of identifying and addressing risk enabling companies to protect themselves from the negative effects of misconduct.
In addition, irrespective of the question of legal sanctions, a badly handled whistleblower situation can cause extensive reputational damage.
Businesses may also wish to consider the EU proposals. Assuming Brexit takes place in October 2019, the UK will not fall within this regime. However, there may nonetheless be domestic pressure for the UK to establish similar protections and, from a practical perspective, businesses with EU operations may prefer to take a harmonised approach across their business units.
Click here for our Legal Update on the APPG's findings and recommendations and for information on the EU proposals.