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Establishing an effective whistleblower line

Posted by: Laurence Simons 13/11/15

Whistleblowing cases have long been prominent within the legal sector, although relatively few have made headlines. Particularly within the NHS and private sector, the practice serves as an excellent insight into corruption; be that bribery, fraud, theft of public funds or other acts of wrongdoing. Yet many feel as though there are inadequate processes for those with information to go through, or that if they do, there can be insufficient protection – both professional and personal.

The legal sector is no stranger to any of these cases, big or small. In fact, one prominent firm has even generated over $11.6 billion in civil settlements and related criminal fines, and won more than $1 billion in whistleblower rewards for their clients. The companies involved range a huge amount; it is not only the health and pharmaceutical sectors that are most affected.

But the question remains, are these people properly protected?

Currently, whistleblowers can face retaliation in the form of blacklisting, firing from their job, harassment, threats and even physical violence – which is only if their disclosure isn’t routinely ignored. Because of the severity of some of the revelations, both the national and international press take huge interest in these cases, which only increases the pressure on individuals and can often perturb those with information from coming forward. 

The Whistleblowing Research Unit at Middlesex University in the UK, led by Professor of Employment Law David Lewis, carries out important research in this field. Professor Lewis has been heavily involved in a Business and Management Impact Case Study on 'Alternative Forms of Employee Voice’. In it, he writes that: “The impact of scholarly research on whistleblowing has been evident in specific lines of policy thinking, as well as the wider policy climate, among politicians, academic and practising lawyers, employers, trade unions and voluntary organisations. These impacts have been incremental and cumulative. The 1995 Modern Law Review article, standing alone at the time as an academic study on the subject, influenced the decision to make protection for whistleblowers a UK employment right. This approach has been subsequently adopted in many countries, and the EU, through recognition of a need for whistleblowing procedures as an anti-corruption tool.”

But is this enough? Find out more next week when we will discuss the findings from our “Establishing an effective whistleblower line” event.