Whistleblowing report: UK needs to improve protections

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UK whistleblowing law is “inadequate and does not meet most international standards” according to a detailed report by Blueprint for Free Speech (BFS). The report demands a new approach for protecting whistleblowers in the UK

The report is detailed (116 pages) and highly critical of the current system; describing it as ineffective at protecting whistleblowers.

The report acknowledges the many Barristers and solicitors in the UK contributed their time to provide useful context, advice and recommendations.

BFS’ specific concerns about UK whistleblower laws included:

  • A lack of penalties for managers and colleagues who victimise whistleblowers;
  • that a whistleblower has to wait to suffer a detriment before they can rely on their rights to seek protection. Pre-retaliation protection mechanisms were not included in whistleblowing legislation when it was first introduction in 1998. The law should stop retaliation before it is too late. The reports suggests an employee could be issued with a “Whistleblower Protection Certificate” that would immediately ban or stop retaliation;
  • the time it takes for unfair dismissal claims to reach a final hearing and the lack of recourse in addition to going to an employment tribunals, for example a government body that could respond quickly.
  • the significant fees whistleblowers face to bring claims (£250 to issue and £950 before the hearing);
  • the complexity of employment tribunal whistleblowing proceedings.

The report states unfair dismissal whistleblowing cases taken to Employment Tribunals normally  take 20 months to reach a decision with the  median compensation awards being £17,422.

“Up until now, the UK’s system has focused primarily on two things: providing channels for whistleblowers to disclose misconduct; and financially compensating whistleblowers who have suffered retaliation. Ironically, the most critical element of any whistleblower protection framework –preventing or quickly stopping the full scope of retaliation is the weak link in the UK’s system or protection” (P61 report)

The report sets out a detailed also lists 20 reforms to improve the situation for whistleblowers in the UK.  These included possible rewards for whistleblowing, expanding the list of people protected, for example to cover volunteers and non-executve directors, establish better compensation systems to deal with stigma damage, appoint specialist Judges to whistleblowing cases and add trade unions as bodies that disclosures can be made to. But the 10 reforms identified by the report as being most urgent are:

  1. Establish a rapid-response system to protect whistleblowers.
  2. Establish a specialised government or independent agency or department to protect whistleblowers.
  3. Establish civil, and potentially criminal, penalties for retaliators and for those who violate PIDA and other laws related to the reporting of misconduct.
  4. Establish new standards and formulae specifically geared for whistleblower cases and the needs of whistleblowers.
  5. Require government agencies and medium to large companies75 to establish whistleblower disclosure channels and frameworks.
  6. Require regulators and investigative agencies to follow up on disclosures.
  7. Extend whistleblower protections and provisions to intelligence and military workers.
  8. Place the full burden of proof on employers to demonstrate that adverse consequences were not related to a worker’s act of whistleblowing.
  9. Ban the inclusion of “gag orders” in settlement agreements.
  10. Significantly lower Employment Tribunal fees and simplify the hearing process.

 

BFS is a not for profit organisation dedicated to improving freedom of expression around the globe.

Report: ‘Protecting Whistleblowers in the UK: a New Blueprint’.

 

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