Government proposes changes to whistleblowing laws

by Sarah Ashcroft

Having a safe and secure whistleblowing policy is vital for employees of a business to expose wrongdoing, which is ultimately to the benefit of the company involved.

However, contained in a small passage of the government’s enterprise and regulatory reform bill (2012) is a section that could silence critics and make it very difficult for whistleblowers to act.

In effect, the changes would mean that whistleblowers are given protection only when the disclosure is made "in the public interest".

According to ministers, the reform is designed to close a loophole that currently lets employees blow the whistle on breaches of their own employment contract, which they say are of a "purely personal interest".

The proposals have been met with criticism, however, from one of the UK's leading experts on whistleblowing law. David Lewis, professor of employment law at Middlesex University and convenor of the International Whistleblowing Research Network, has written an open letter to business secretary Vince Cable that attacks the lack of consultation over the changes.

"These provisions have not been the subject of official review since they came into force in 1999 and there appears to have been no consultation about the proposed introduction of a general public interest test in all cases," he wrote.

Professor Lewis went on to say that the planned changes could "create uncertainty in many cases" and may ultimately inhibit important disclosures about wrongdoing.

"In my opinion, the current economic crisis underlines how important it is to have tip offs about improprieties. Many employers now recognise this and have policies which promote reporting but do not contain a public interest test," he added.

Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institiute for Personnel and Development, agrees that there has been a lack of consultation over the proposed reforms. Speaking to Personnel Today, he said anything that prevents employees from exposing wrongdoing freely is "unhelpful" both to them and to the organisations they work for.

The changes to the whistleblowing regime are part of a wider package of reforms designed to reduce costs for businesses. However, by making it more difficult for employees to expose wrongdoing, the bill could ultimately increase costs for companies.

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Published on: June 6, 2012

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