Employment law: whistle blowing

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 - Blog

Employment law: whistle blowing

Qiqi Green Whistle 8-16-09 3

Have you ever been tempted when witnessing something at work, which you know to be immoral and probably illegal, possibly in employment law, to become a whistle blower? Perhaps it was an issue of management, judgement, or a known and well executed short cut which is illegal and continually abused?

Personally, I am sure that most workers and employees come across these regularly on an annual basis, but how many would have the courage to take up whistle blowing? I admire the people that do, who are the among the few of us who have the moral fibre to stand up in public for what they think and know is right.

Reasons for whistle blowing

The need for whistle blowing personally is brought about by bad internal communication. Everyone can put on the airs and graces when customers or new employees are checking the place out, but in a 40hour week for 52weeks of the year, like any relationship everyone gets on everyone else’s “pip” at some point.

It is at these times that good communication and picking up on peoples feelings that really count. I am a great thinker along the line of Hertzberg when it comes to staff turnover, but IBM in the 1970s in a long study found that the key relationship within a company for staying in the job was the workers relationship with their boss. IBM found that you could pay an employee what ever you wanted to, give them the best car in the best parking space, etc. But staff retention was most directly associated with your relationship with your boss.

Whistle blowing therefore is a sign of two team issues in that organisation:

  • A breakdown in communication in a team, and specifically between worker and manager
  • A driven disregard for an aspect of the law which is accepted and condoned inside the team, and specifically the management, as acceptable

Employment: whistle blowing

But, in the modern world when considering whistle blowing, have you thought about the publicity aspects, and how they will affect your future employment?

Under most companies standard HR policy, once you blow the whistle you will be moved from that team. You could even be suspended, possibly on no pay. Then there’s the internal investigation, which if you have no faith in the management, probably means that you don’t want to wait while they investigate/clean up the mess. Hence why you become a whistle blower in the first place.

If its an issue which breaks the law, then the time scale for an investigation and you returning to work could be as long as 12months. When many don’t have enough to pay the mortgage next month if they stopped working this week, who would be a whistle blower?

Law and whistle blowing

The key steps to being a whistle blower on an aspect of your employment and workplace, is to be aware of the process and manage it. Yes, once the process is operating then your are out of control of the final decision, but you now know the time scales and potential outcomes.

It is in managing this process and being sure that what you see is beyond not right to illegal that trade union membership provides greatest value. Unions employ some of the best employment, HR and human rights lawyers in most countries: Cherie Blair still makes much of her money undertaking work for various unions on aspects of European Human Rights law. Having access at such an early stage to legal advice of your potential whistle blowing exercise means two clarities:

  • The assurance that what you see is illegal or not
  • The time scale in which the process will unfold

I also know that union support gives a third aspect, that of minimum time out of work, or at least minimising the time in which you will not be receiving a wage. That same employers process which would potentially suspend a whistle blowing employee on their own, is usurped by the unions influence and publicity machine to bring greater shame and hence immediate brand damage to the employer. Therefore, the likely hood of you retaining your income with Union support is much greater.

Employment after whistle blowing

Once you have been through the legal process, then at some point you will need to work again. It is highly unlikely that you will be employed by the same company within three years of whistle blowing, as the break down in communication has probably gone too far. It is then that how you addressed whistle blowing will now affect your future employment prospects.

While everyone admires a proven right whistle blower, no employer wants a trouble maker. It doesn’t really matter how high your moral cause, but key to your future employment will be that:

  • You were proven right
  • You followed the correct process

In example, a few months ago I had a job applicant for a position. His references looked fine, but a quick Google CV check and a tap on the news tab revealed that in the last ten years of employment he had either sued or whistle blown on every one of his three employers. All of his references were clean as the employer like many today had a policy of only giving dates of employment and reason for leaving (“resignation” in all three cases of our job applicant).

But his Google CV revealed having sued one for an industrial injury (thrown out), one for discrimination (thrown out), and one for illegal work place practices which he had taken to the local newspaper (for which the interim Health & Safety Executive judgement was “unproven, probably the best operator in the area”). As his work experience didn’t fit the job we were placing, I had a reason for dismissal of his job application, but if I had not I am sure we and the employer we were recruiting for would have been sued.

I have also written Professional CV‘s for whistle blowers, some of whom on meeting them you would have initially thought wouldn’t have had the courage to do what they did. As we knew that their whistle blowing case was easily found and attached to them on searching the internet and their references in one case, we address the issue in the form of an answer to an interview question:

  • I saw what I thought was wrong, addressed my concerns through the company process
  • When they were unresponsive, I approached the union
  • The case was a difficult time for me…..
  • But having been proven right I have now moved on with my career, and seek employers where staff communication is a high priority and resultantly low staff turnover
  • What is your staff turnover as a company, and that of the team this position is offered in?

In summary, I stand up and applaud whistle blowers: you make our world better and workplace safer by holding employers to account for what they should be doing. But, make sure you have a case first before blowing the whistle, and understand the process time scales – for which the best support comes from a union. Once you are then proven right your future employment is assured, and the publicity positive for both you and the outcome.

Good Luck!


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4 Responses to “Employment law: whistle blowing”

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