Blowing the Whistle: Workplace Misconduct and How to Fight it
What is whistleblowing? How do whistleblowers stay anonymous? How can whistleblowing help my company?
Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Cambridge Analytica, Panama Papers. You might hear the term “whistleblowing” and think of these individuals, these cases. You might think about a whistleblower and imagine a hacker, a former national security employee. You might read about whistleblowing and think about exposing government wrongdoings, fraudulent behaviour, tax evasion in the millions.
But whistleblowing is not always that monumental, that news breaking. Whistleblowing can also be the exposing of smaller companies, a CFO, your coworker. In short, whistleblowing is simply the term used when a person exposes behaviour concerning wrongdoing, such as corruption, sexual harassment, fraud.
Although famous whistleblowers have brought governments down, have exposed previous presidents or CEOs of multinational corporations, other whistleblowers have helped the environment by exposing EU law breaches on CO2 emissions. They have helped other employees struggle with sexual harassment by reporting a perpetrator. They have helped a company evade bankruptcy by revealing a fraudulent employee who was stealing money.
You may be an employee thinking about whistleblowing, you may be a company worried about whistleblowing, or you may just want more information. As a company specialising on fighting workplace misconduct, Metta Space is here to clear up some common misconceptions, some frequently asked questions.
Most of all, we are here to help you understand that whistleblowing is not only helpful for employees who might want to report, but will actually strengthen your company.
What exactly is a whistleblower?
There is no overarching legal definition of a whistleblower in the EU - but there are a lot of different (mis)perceptions and ideas about what a whistleblower looks like. A whistleblower is just a person who speaks out about any misconduct within the workplace, which breaches the law and is harmful to the public interest.
According to the EU 2019/1937 Whistleblowing Directive, whistleblowers include employees, members of corporate structures and employees of a given entity’s third party collaborators.
Valid reports should not only include those reports made during the period of time in which a person is working at a company, but also those made during the hiring process and after any legal relationship has ended.
How does whistleblowing help companies?
Another common misconception about whistleblowing is that it is harmful for companies. But that is actually contrary to what the purpose of whistleblowing is. It helps highlight misconduct in a company, which is harmful to its employees, clients or reputation.
Whistleblowing, therefore, is many things. It’s deterring: it stops problems becoming bigger once there is no way to stop them. It’s preventative: it helps your company deal with any issue before it becomes public and damages your reputation. It’s cooperative: it shows your employees that you care about their wellbeing and about the continued success of the company. It’s helpful: it focuses on transparency in your company, instead of obstruction of dynamic workplaces.
On the one hand, whistleblowing helps overall employee wellbeing. Whistleblowing can help companies develop a safe and comfortable working environment for employees by allowing them to speak up if there is any misconduct or misbehaviour.
By introducing secure channels for whistleblowers to report concerns, companies have the opportunity to encourage people to speak up and address any concerns at an early stage.
For example, workplace misconduct, such as sexual harassment, is usually a scaling incident. That means, it starts out smaller, such as some inappropriate messages or looks and can escalate if not dealt with appropriately early on. Whistleblowing would help the reporting of such smaller misconduct and prevent the perpetrator from harassing other employees, leading to legal charges, employee resignation or reputational damage.
On the other hand, whistleblowing can also help company image, reputation and finances. Incorporating reporting channels can become a preventative and deterring tool in order to obstruct further damage to the company. Workplace misconduct can oftentimes lead to possible financial, legal or reputational damage, as cases may escalate and involve lawyers and/or the press. Whistleblowing through reporting channels allows companies to take the first precautionary step in protecting their company.
Can whistleblowing be anonymous?
Yes, whistleblowing can be anonymous. In terms of the new EU law, companies are required to set up reporting channels that ensure confidentiality, whether the report has been submitted anonymously or not. People who have reported anonymously, and are later identified, are still protected against possible retaliation.
At Metta Space we believe that allowing anonymous reporting will increase and encourage whistleblowing. This is because people are more likely to trust that they are going to be protected against any attack or reprisal, if they can remain anonymous.
It is important to remember that anonymity does not increase false reporting. Rather, it protects the employee from attacks, reprisal or retaliation from the perpetrator, or anyone close to the perpetrator. These types of reprisals are not permitted under EU law and such action could result in actual reputational or financial damage.
Let's Blow the Whistle
In football matches referees blow the whistle when there has been foul play involved. One player has tripped another player, stopping them from succeeding in shooting a goal. They may only go away with a warning, maybe it escalates to a yellow card, and at times they are even fired from the field.
The scenario is not much different in companies. Someone blows the whistle on foul play - be it fraudulent activity, discrimination based on race, or sexual harassment. This type of foul play is actually stopping the company from succeeding in their goal - making more profit, creating social impact, gaining more followers.
By warning the perpetrator, or giving them a yellow card, maybe they will think twice before perpetrating another foul. Maybe the foul is so big they have to leave the field. Either way, the whistle blow can help the team, the player, the company, succeed in their goal.
Written By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space