Whistleblowing definition

Whistleblowing is the act of drawing public attention, or the attention of an authority figure, to perceived wrongdoing, misconduct, unethical activity within public, private or third-sector organisations. Corruption, fraud, bullying, health and safety violation, cover-ups and discrimination are common activities highlighted by whistleblowers.

Whistleblowers often face reprisals from their employer, who may suffer reputational damage as a result of the whistle being blown, or from colleagues who may have been involved in the illicit activities. In some cases reprisals become so severe that they turn into persecution. In some cases reprisals come from legal channels, particularly if the whistle has been blown for illegitimate reasons.

Protection of whistleblowers is an important focus for the legal system, as is incentivising whistle blowing when there are many reasons stopping employees from doing so. In the UK, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 is the basis of legal protection of whistle blowers. Previously disclosures had to be in the public interest, but new legislation enacted in late June 2013 changed this so that disclosures had to be in ‘good faith.’

All employers should adopt a whistleblowing policy that encourages employees to draw attention to wrongdoing or risky behaviour. In the case of legal action being taken against a company as a result of internal wrongdoing, having and promoting a strong whistleblowing policy may act in part as a legal defence.