Whistleblowing

Employment law generally is perhaps one of the most fascinating indicators of the state of society and community – the vast majority of adults spend a high proportion of their lives at work, and so there are interesting ways in which what goes on at work reflects society. A good example of this would be the growing issue of use of social media at work, but this i snot the subject of this page.

Many would say that societal values of community and morality have diminished hugely in the last 15 years, with the rise of technology and what we would describe as the “me first” culture. We are bombarded with ever more targeted messages that we need to have the latest gadgets or clothes, that society values money and winners, way above a sense of shared values and responsibility.

Whistleblowing is a fascinating microcosm perhaps of the above – none of us likes to feel like we have “ratted” on someone, this is something engrained from an early age in the schoolground, but how should an employee react if they find out that there is some serious wrongdoing or criminal activity in the workplace ? Should they be concerned that this activity is wrong and dangerous or should they only blow the whistle and report such activity if it may directly impact on them or for some financial reward for doing so ?

All the trends in society are frankly worrying. The culture we describe above is evidenced by the trend for things such as lying on cv’s, thinking it’s ok to break the law if your friend or colleague has got away with it, an increase in fraud such as insurance or mortgage fraud.

It if course takes great courage and moral strength to blow the whistle at work, but the fact is, it is all very well for people to be outraged, rightly so, by, for example, the recent hacking scandals and debacle involving Barclays, but responsibility surely starts with each of us. People within the organisations involved in these scandals clearly knew what was going on, and yet, certainly not at the time, did anyone decide to alert the authorities. Is that because of fear or is it instead an attitude that if it doesn’t impact on me, it’s not my problem ?

What is also worrying is the trend which has started in the US. For serious financial and other crimes, the US Government is offering very significant financial inducements to whistleblowers, and lo and behold, the number of reports of wrongdoing has suddenly rocketed. Does this not of itself show that the Western world has had a moral collapse, where it is now only about money ?

The above article has been contributed by Ben Jones, head of employment law at Darlingtons Solicitors. Ben’s thoughts and advice can also be found at http://www.darlingtonsemploymentsolicitors.co.uk.