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Managing a whistleblower

The way you respond to someone seeking to ‘blow the whistle’ is very important, we have put together a six-step plan to help you respond:

1 – Remember

  • Remind yourself about your obligations under your firm’s whistleblowing policy;
  • Remember that your behaviour at this point should respect the CII’s Code of Ethics, your own firm’s code of ethics (or similar) and any regulatory obligations you may be under;
  • Remember that the person in front of you blowing the whistle is going to be feeling nervous and cautious. Take this into account in how you engage with them, for example by being patient, responding with sensitivity and above all, listening respectfully;
  • Remember that whistleblowing can save lives, jobs, money and reputations. Whistleblowers can be amongst the most loyal and public spirited of employees.

2 – Listen

  • Listen to what he/she has to say and record it. Ask him/her to clarify any grey areas, but bear in mind that the person may not know exact details. Read back what you’ve recorded so that the person knows what you’ve written down;
  • Check whether the person raising the concern with you is doing so as a complaint (because they have a vested interest in what’s happened) or as whistleblowing (which usually involves no direct, personal interest in what’s happened). Follow the appropriate procedure for whichever situation applies, but remember, if the person is in doubt or insists it’s whistleblowing, then treat it as whistleblowing;
  • Don’t let your feelings about what they are telling you (the message) become confused with how you respond to the person in front of you (the messenger);
  • Remember that while the person blowing the whistle should provide you with what evidence they have to back up the concerns they are raising with you, they are not required to provide you with any form of investigatory evidence. It is for you and the firm to investigate the concern being raised and to gather that evidence.

3 – Advise

  • Suggest that, if they haven’t already done so, the person becomes familiar with the firm’s whistleblowing policy;
  • Reassure the person that he/she should not suffer detriment for having raised this concern, unless it is later proved that the information they’re providing was false to his or her knowledge;
  • Reassure the person that his/her identity can be kept confidential if he/she so requests, but also point out that in certain circumstances, the law may require its disclosure;
  • Remind the person that he/she is entitled to seek independent guidance. This could be through an independent provider of whistleblowing guidance already organised by the firm, or through an independent source such as the charity Public Concern at Work.

4 – Reassure

  • Outline who will be looking into their concern and how they will go about doing so, as well as how long this might take. Provide the person with a copy of the firm’s procedures for handling a concern raised by a whistleblower;
  • Reassure the person that they can expect to be told the outcome of the investigation into the concern they’ve raised, but also point out that in certain circumstances (such as relating to data protection or the rights of third parties), such feedback might not be possible;
  • Tell the person that if they suffer any form of detriment from the firm or any of its employees because of having raised this concern, then they should report this to you as soon as possible. Some examples of detriment (both short and long term) to look out for could be closer monitoring, ostracism, blocking access to resources, unrequested reassignment or relocation, bullying or harassment, victimisation, suspension, demotion, disciplinary sanction, denial of training, dismissal, failure to promote, failure to provide an appropriate reference and failure to investigate a subsequent concern.

5 – Act

  • Decide how you’re going to deal with the concern that the person has raised with you – for example, is there any immediate urgency regarding a danger to life?
  • Report this whistleblowing approach to the appropriate persons of authority within the firm. This could be the compliance manager or the person your firm has designated as its ‘whistleblowers champion’;
  • Record this whistleblowing approach in the firm’s management systems, as and where required by its whistleblowing procedures;
  • Initiate an investigation into the concern being raised and allocate to it the appropriate level of resource and expertise.

6 – Feedback

  • Remind those conducting the investigation that feedback is to be provided to the person who raised the concern and agree with them when and what this is likely to be, and who will provide it.