One of our employees, a financial controller, has raised an issue with us in confidence. Part of his job is to review accounts prepared on a departmental basis, and he is concerned about a large sum of money that appears to be missing. He initially raised his concern with his line manager, who told him to ignore it. How should we handle this?
Workers are protected and encouraged by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 to disclose malpractice internally (in exceptional circumstances, disclosures can be made to a regulator or the media).
Your employee has the right to be protected even if he is incorrect, so long as he is sincere.
Whether a belief is reasonable is assessed based on the surrounding circumstances, including the personality traits of the whistleblower and the ethos of the organisation, and the relationship between the whistleblower and the person alleged to be doing the wrongdoing.
Maintain confidentiality where possible regarding the identity of the whistleblower and the concerns raised. Hold an investigative meeting with him to obtain details of his concerns. Investigate these concerns and document the investigation, and take appropriate action to remedy the wrongdoing or confirm that no irregularity has taken place.
If his line manager bullies him or downgrades his performance because of the disclosure, the employer will be vicariously liable, and the employee will be able to claim that he has suffered a detriment. Make sure you have a whistleblowing procedure in place that covers:
- the concerns that should be raised
- the procedure to raise a concern
- the procedure followed to investigate a concern
Sara Khoja is a solicitor at Field Fisher Waterhouse