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Are we facing a reform to whistleblowing laws?

The eagle eyed amongst those of you responsible for managing people or HR departments will have noticed the Government’s recent ‘Call for Evidence’ regarding the UK’s current whistleblowing laws. This came about because of recurring questions linking diverse scandals, such as phone hacking and those that have hit the retail, health service and the banking sectors.  People asked whether a different system that encouraged and protected whistleblowers might have mitigated or even avoided the problems that emerged.

On 25th June they published their conclusions, and surprisingly for many, have suggested what could be interpreted as a ‘light touch’ approach to further change.

Whilst the recommendations do take into account the conclusions of the Public Concern At Work Commission (“PCAW”), and move away from recommending more litigation, there is clearly a need for greater guidance at a practical level.  It is unclear what any of these changes could mean for the majority of employers.

In summary, it appears that only a handful of changes will be introduced as a result of this consultation.  In the immediate term, a series of non-legislative changes and, effective as of April 2015, minor legal changes.  These include:

  • providing employers with better guidance and a model whistle-blowing policy
  • a new legal requirement that Regulators report on whistle-blowing annually
  • some slight changes to the list of prescribed persons (people you can blow the whistle to if you can’t tell your employer) and the ways in which it is updated
  • minor adjustments to the categories of protected workers.

Employers will notice that, at the heart of much of this, lies improved guidance.  The Government plans to take far greater responsibility for ensuring that both employers and employees understand how the process can and should work, as well as supporting those involved.  As a result it’s important that all employers review their whistleblowing policies to ensure that they have the correct information and reporting procedures in place.  They should make sure that staff are trained and made aware of their rights as well as ensuring that they are up to date on the changes taking place over the coming year. Immediate guidance on whistleblowing is available here.

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