Financial regulator introduces mandatory training to spot whistleblowers

Employers urged to have effective processes in place for workers to make protected disclosures even when they have a ‘healthy’ culture

The UK’s financial watchdog has launched mandatory training to help its staff identify individuals making protected disclosures as part of a wider campaign to encourage people to blow the whistle on any wrongdoing in their organisations.

As part of its ‘In confidence, with confidence’ campaign, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has produced a digital toolkit for industry bodies, consumer groups and whistleblowing groups to encourage people to report their concerns.

It has also introduced a mandatory e-learning module for all staff to help them identify potential whistleblowers and make sure intelligence received by the FCA is dealt with correctly and identities are protected.

The announcement comes amid reports that the government is considering a review into protections for whistleblowing in response to a spike of dismissals during the pandemic. According to analysis by The Telegraph, more than 2,000 employment tribunal claims for whistleblowing detriment were made between April and December 2020, and cases have more than doubled in the last seven years.

Olivia Fahy, head of culture at compliance consultancy TCC, said the launch of the FCA’s campaign was an indication that not enough organisations were offering employees a safe environment to speak up about concerns.

Fahy said it was important that organisations have effective whistleblowing policies and procedures in place, even where there is a “healthy culture” where policies are less likely to be used because employees are listened to at the early stages of their concern.

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“It’s a double-edged sword – good that whistleblowers are being encouraged to go to the regulator directly, but not if it means they cannot go to their employer,” Fahy added.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said it was important people felt they could speak up in organisations. 

Employers need to have a standalone speak up policy, supported by managers, that makes it clear staff can safely report any concerns about practice of inappropriate behaviour, he said. But, added Willmott, having the wrong business culture can “fundamentally undermine” any whistleblowing mechanism.

“The starting point is that businesses should be thinking about their culture, the values they have. If they’re espousing values about treating people with respect, are these values remodelled by senior leaders and managers at all levels?” said Willmott.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be how people lead and are treated on a daily basis that will decide the level of trust in an organisation, and trust is key to whether people feel like they can speak up.” 

Georgina Halford-Hall, chief executive of WhistleblowersUK, said while the importance of whistleblowing has long been recognised, “the negative image of whistleblowing is not helped by the fact that the law set out to protect them has failed, because it puts the whistleblower and not the whistleblowing on trial”.

She added: “We encourage boards to think of whistleblowers as their best friend – informed insiders who are committed to upholding the law and protecting the reputation of the organisation they work for, who should be recognised and rewarded and have platforms to make speaking up part of the DNA of the organisation.”