The UK government introduced protection for employees and workers in Great Britain that blow the whistle on matters such as criminal activity, breaches of legal obligations, health and safety concerns and environmental damage in 1998.
In response to calls for reform, the DBT has now announced a review of the existing framework, to provide up to date information that will allow it to decide how it could develop and improve the law in future. The DBT expects the review to be completed by the autumn of 2023.
Scope of the review
The purpose of the review is to allow the government to assess whether the existing framework operates effectively and protects those who blow the whistle in the workplace. Central topics for consideration are:
- Who is covered by whistleblowing protections;
- The availability of information and guidance about whistleblowing; and
- How employers and prescribed persons (bodies authorised to receive disclosures about specified matters) respond to whistleblowing disclosures.
The government recognises the importance of whistleblowing, particularly in the contexts of economic crime and reporting unsafe working conditions, as demonstrated through disclosures to the Health and Safety Executive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whistleblowing charities have called for wide-reaching reforms to the current law, including proposals to:
- Widen the scope of the matters about which complaints can be made to include gross waste or mismanagement of public funds or corruption in public procurement, amongst other things;
- Protect those who do not have an employment-type relationship with the person receiving a disclosure, such as suppliers, shareholders and business associates;
- Require employers to establish procedures for reporting and managing whistleblowing disclosures (reflecting obligations under the EU Whistleblowing Directive), supplemented by an ACAS Code of Practice on receiving and handling whistleblowing disclosures;
- Introduce an obligation on employers to provide an annual transparency statement outlining internal channels and procedures for reporting and managing whistleblowing internally and within supply chains;
- Give employees a right not to be discriminated against or harassed because they have blown the whistle, bringing the protection for whistleblowing in line with other types of discrimination; and
- Establish a new independent body to set the standards expected of employers and prescribed persons, which would have powers to impose civil penalties for breaches of whistleblowing requirements.
It seems unlikely that any proposals for reform following the review will include all of those points. However, the DBT has indicated that it will examine the definition of who is a worker for whistleblowing purposes. One key change would be to include job applicants within the scope of whistleblowing protection in future.
Authored by Jo Broadbent, Anvita Sharma and Stefan Martin.