The whistleblower: friend rather than foe

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I was shocked to read that three quarters of British workers are too scared to complain about workplace safety because they fear that rocking the boat could cost them their job or bonus (Protecting.co.uk). Many believed that reporting on safety fears would single them out as a ‘trouble maker’, because of the additional work it would cause the employer.

Shadowing this anxiety towards whistleblowing is the much wider fear surrounding a national decrease in job security. Prioritisation of risk becomes the key influencer, with many choosing that the risk of losing their job in a tough employment climate is more severe than any immediate concerns over health and safety in the workplace. Compounding this fear is the recent introduction of tribunal fees, causing many employees to put up with workplace anxieties because of the high cost of claiming unfair dismissal in the tribunal courts.

Unfortunately, this results in lots of dangers going unreported, and potentially increasing in danger over time and as issues accumulate. Looking at the bigger picture, this evidence lends weight to the general concerns over a deterioration in workplace relations, with a shift from the more traditional collective culture to one of individuals concerned with their own self-interests.

When it comes to whistleblowing, the disconnect between policies and reality is concerning. The majority of companies will be aware that negative treatment of an employee for whistleblowing is classed as discrimination, and that dismissal for reasons of whistleblowing is unlawful in the UK. Any company victimising or disciplining a whistleblower could end up before the tribunal courts and facing substantial fines.

Employers should welcome whistleblowing and look to protect those employees who report a problem. It should be known amongst staff that people can discuss issues without any unfair recrimination, and it is the responsibility of the employer to create this open culture where communications channels are open both ways. Who knows, but perhaps the employee who reported a fire hazard, costing you a few hundred pounds to rectify, has actually saved you thousands – perhaps your livelihood – in the long run!

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