Help, I’m a whistleblower! Tips when speaking up

Speaking up is hard. In this article, find out how to speak up effectively and protect yourself in the process.

Moritz Homann

Chapters

You have seen something at work which breaks the law or goes against ethical standards. While you know that speaking up is the honourable thing to do, it is a difficult decision as it could lead to significant repercussions in the workplace. In this article, we explain what to consider before disclosing information and where to go if you need support.

Illustration man crossing the abyss with the help of a hand

Why do whistleblowers report?

Many whistleblowers are motivated by wanting to do the right thing. They see wrongdoing or abuses occurring in their organisation and feel a duty to set things right. 

Whistleblowing’s profile has been raised in recent years as a result of scandals such as the LuxLeaks, Panama Papers and Cambridge Analytica, which have all led to greater recognition of the value that whistleblowers provide. Scandals like these have also led to legislation to better protect whistleblowers from reprisals – such as the EU Whistleblowing Directive

Sometimes, financial rewards are available for whistleblowers. This is most notable in the USA where whistleblowers might be eligible for a bonus from the government for disclosing information relating to fraud and financial misconduct. 

What kind of abuses can whistleblowers report?

Whistleblowing reports focus on conduct prohibited by a specific law such as a criminal offence, discrimination or evidence of a cover-up. 

Individual country legislation determines if and under what circumstances a whistleblower receives protection. For example, EU countries are obligated to implement the EU Whistleblowing Directive by December 2021 and this protects whistleblowers if they uncover breaches of EU law such as tax fraud, money laundering or offences relating to public contracts, product and transport safety, environmental protection, public health, and consumer and data protection (although the Directive does encourage its member states to broaden this to include breaches of domestic law too).

In the UK, disclosers are protected if they relate to criminal offences, failure to comply with a legal obligation, miscarriages of justice, threats to people’s health and safety, damage to the environment or any deliberate attempt to cover-up any of the above.

Whistleblowing is different to raising a workplace grievance. A grievance is a matter of personal interest and does not impact on the wider public. However, some companies allow employees to report workplace grievances within their internal whistleblowing hotlines

Can whistleblowers go public and still be protected?

Generally lawmakers prefer whistleblowers to report misconduct either internally or to a prescribed organisation first. The EU Directive, for example, states that whistleblowers can choose to report an incident internally first within the company or directly to the relevant supervisory authority. If nothing is done in response to such a report, or if the whistleblower has reason to believe that there is a public interest, they can also go directly to the public. They are protected in all of these cases. 

What should I consider before I blow the whistle?

You have seen something you wish to disclose. What steps do you need to take to ensure that you raise the issue in the right way and ensure that you are protected at all times?

1. Learn the law to find out what protections are in place 

Knowledge is power and whistleblower protection laws are different in each country. The law will inform you how to blow the whistle in the right way – what you can report, how, to whom and by when – and in what circumstances you are protected. While EU member states are obliged to implement the EU Whistleblowing Directive into their domestic law by December 2021, this only guarantees a minimum standard. Individual laws enacted by member states will differ. As it has recently left the EU, the UK maintains its own domestic legislation on whistleblower protection. 

2. Check company procedure and reporting channels

As a next step, check if your company has its own whistleblowing policy and an internal reporting channel. Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, these are almost certainly the best place to start. A company’s whistleblowing policy should provide clear guidance on the internal whistleblowing process, how to raise a concern, define the types of concerns that can be raised and outline the legal protections or restrictions. 

3. Consider remaining anonymous

In many jurisdictions, companies have a duty to keep the identity of their whistleblowers confidential. However, whistleblowers can in many cases, choose to remain anonymous, even to the person responsible for handling their case. Some companies have digital systems which encrypt messages which pass between the whistleblower and case handler, allowing the whistleblower to stay truly anonymous but also enabling follow-up communication.

4. Avoid turning investigator

It is a whistleblower’s job to report, not investigate. Stick to the hard facts. Do not exaggerate and do not make unfounded accusations which can, if your report goes to investigation or tribunal stage and is not upheld, lead to the other side claiming that you are untrustworthy. Furthermore, any investigations conducted by the whistleblower could succeed in tipping off suspects and undermine any subsequent internal investigation. 

5. Escalate if needed – but beware of the implications

There are many reasons why it is advantageous for both whistleblower and company to keep matters internal. However, if no action is taken by your company, or if you suspect a cover up, then it’s ok to escalate your concerns. If you suffer reprisals as a result, you may need to consider taking independent legal advice or contact a support organisation which can help. Just be aware that this road is a long one – stamina and a support network are a must, and you may need to call on additional financial resources along the way.  

Where do I turn if I need support?

Perhaps you have questions regarding the law, or as a result of your report you are facing unfair treatment and reprisals. Who can you contact for support? We have collected a list  of organisations that can support you. 

Have we forgotten any? Send us an email at contact[at]eqs.com.

Europe

Czech Republic

Oživení

Estonia 

Transparency Estonia

France

La Maison des Lanceurs d’Alerte and Alertes.me

Germany

Whistleblower-Netzwerk e.V.

Ireland

Transparency International Ireland

Italy

Transparency International Italia

Serbia 

Pištaljka (“The Whistle”)

UK

Protect and ACAS (free, impartial advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice)

 

North & Central America

South America

Continent-wide

Poder

 

Africa

Asia

Australasia

International

Whistleblowing Report

A comprehensive study on whistleblowing in European companies

Share this blog post on

Share on linkedin
Share on xing
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Moritz Homann contact image | integrityline.com

Moritz Homann

Managing Director Corporate Compliance | EQS Group
Moritz Homann is responsible for the department of Corporate Compliance products at EQS Group. In this function, he oversees the strategic development of digital workflow solutions tailored to meet the needs of Compliance Officers around the world.
We reveal what you need to know about whistleblowers and shed light on the legal basis.
With the EU Whistleblowing Directive, the topic of speaking up is becoming important for organisations. This article contains everything you need to know.