Here at Fozia HQ we can safely say we have enough experience between us to give you some advice, when it comes to reporting wrongdoing in the workplace.
What does reporting wrongdoing mean? When you have a reasonable belief that something unethical or illegal has occurred or is about to occur within the workplace. This can be in a private or a public organisation.
Now in some cases you may personally be affected by the wrongdoing, or not - this isn't a problem. But you should know from the start, if you’re thinking of 'blowing the whistle', it is by no means an easy ride.
In an ideal world you would report wrongdoing to your employer who listens to you with concern and moral outrage, then initiates a serious and objective investigation into your claims, and whilst they investigate and take action against the perpetrators you continue working as normal, unfettered by a change in your treatment by your colleagues and your company hierarchy. Unfortunately, this is the real world and this is unlikely to happen (although honourable behaviour by your employer cannot be completely ruled out – maybe you work for Allan Sugar or Richard Branson!).
It sounds harsh, but you must prepare for the worst. The chances are that your employer will no longer see you as an employee from the moment you speak out, but as a snitch, a trouble- maker, a threat or just an irritation. All eyes of those you work with could turn against you and you could become the centre of unwanted attention, discrimination, abuse and victimisation.
The mission of the company will not be to investigate but to get rid of you.
Indeed, they may carry out an investigation, but it may be into a way to undermine your credibility, to set you up and ultimately to destroy your career and reputation.
“Oh, but we live in a civilised, law-abiding, democratic country. Surely this doesn’t happen!”
DON’T BE NAÏVE. From relatively small local companies to large Corporations and Government organisations corruption and illegality is alive and kicking in 2016.
This is a cruel world and you MUST be prepared. If you are one of the few who is ready to stick your head above the parapet and follow your conscience here are our top tips for taking things forward, and we truly hope they help you:
1) TRUST NO ONE. Don’t tell any of your colleagues you are going to report wrongdoing, even if you think they are your friends. Their support could quickly evaporate if their own position comes under threat. One of the most difficult things to accept if you blow the whistle is the likelihood that once done you will probably be completely on your own. If you absolutely must speak to someone, it’s best to find someone who has no vested interest in protecting themselves, e.g. friends, family etc. who have no connection to your company.
2) TAKE YOUR TIME. Evidence is key so take your time to gather it. If you don’t have enough proof you will be giving the company an easy opportunity to dismiss or cover up your allegations, and the task of protecting or vindicating yourself will be so much harder.
3) NO ASSUMPTIONS. Government whistleblowing legislation is supposed to protect you – IT DOESN’T! So don’t think for one minute there are people outside the company from whom you can secure assistance. Organisations such as advice or whistleblowing charities will tell you to go to a solicitor and solicitors will most likely put you off unless you have a ‘cut and dried’ case and plenty of money to pay for their services. Even reporting activity to the police which you believe is criminal may land on deaf ears, and indeed if your employer is well known in the community self-interest and protectionism may kick in to thwart you.
4) WHISTLEBLOWING POLICY. Your employer should have a whistleblowing policy in place which will set out to whom you should raise your concerns in the first instance and what the procedure will then be for investigating your concerns. Be prepared that this policy may simply be for show, and many companies may only want to be seen to follow this policy and appear to investigate without actually doing anything meaningful or effective – at least that will vindicate you!
5) KEEP A RECORD OF EVERYTHING. However you raise your concerns and whoever you raise them with, make sure you put everything in writing. If it’s verbal follow this up by dropping them an email. Don’t forget to include a clear record of what you said, to whom and when. You can buy some very easily concealed recording equipment these days so use it. The legal fraternity have frowned upon this method of gathering evidence, but it is becoming more acceptable if you can show good cause for needing to be covert, especially if the recordings support issues of public interest. At the very least, keep your own notes, even if it’s just an email to yourself - a good idea as it proves the date your notes were made.
6) KEEP IT LOCALISED. We would advise against reporting your concerns to a wider audience at this stage, for example, publishing the information online or in a social media post. In addition, reporting to the media is rarely, if ever, protected under the whistleblowing legislation, but this entirely depends on the individual case and the nature of the disclosures. You will not be protected if you receive a payment from the press for the story.
7) CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENTS. If you have signed any such agreement, which requires you not to discuss matters that arose during your employment with any third party, it is unlikely that it will be enforceable by your employer if you want to raise genuine whistleblowing concerns that are in the public interest, be they with your employer or with regulatory bodies.
8) EVIDENCE. Any documentary evidence you can get is vital. The more the better. Remember that this is not only to give weight to your allegations, but to protect YOU. Take detailed notes, like a diary, of conversations, witnesses that were present, things that happened etc. Make sure everything, including all audio recordings, voicemails, text messages, social media messages (or any form of communication that you intend to use as evidence) backed up & stored in a safe place other than your home. However, you must be careful not to transgress any confidentiality agreement you have with your company, unless you believe your allegations are in the public interest.
9) BE CAREFUL. Don’t be surprised if people’s attitudes toward you change. Even previously close colleagues may distance themselves if they think they will be affected if they show any loyalty to you or your cause. Some may be instructed by upper management to go out of their way to try and trip you up. If you are reporting activity that is also affecting your colleagues negatively, and they complain to you and cry on your shoulder, don’t assume that they will stand behind you once you take the plunge, even if you are doing it to benefit them.
10) FINALLY: the law requires that an individual can never be prevented from blowing the whistle, but just because it’s the law doesn’t mean your employers will abide by it. So if possible make cut backs and start saving!
Is the above designed to put you off? No, but as father might say to a son wanting to be an actor, it’s tough, so only do it if you are absolutely committed to it.