Workplaces still lack whistleblower safeguards

Two-thirds of workplaces still have no systems in place for workers who become whistleblowers — more than two years after new laws set out the procedures and protections that should apply.

One in three bosses say they would not encourage an employee to report a wrongdoing in the public interest where the disclosure might harm the private interests of their organisation.

Fewer than half of employees, meanwhile, feel safe reporting a concern or believe their employer would act on their disclosure.

The findings are from a survey of 900 employees and 350 employers carried out for Transparency International Ireland, which shows a gap between stated attitudes towards whistleblowers and practical support for them.

While 95% of employers say it is important for their organisation or industry that employees speak up about wrongdoing, and 93% say disclosures would be acted on and the whistleblower would not suffer, 66% have not put any procedures or policies in place to support whistleblowing.

Only 57% have no reservations about employing someone who exposed wrongdoing in a previous job and just 16% have a whistleblowing hotline or designated person to receive reports.

TI Ireland released the survey findings as it launched a new free legal service for employees concerned about wrongdoing at their workplace.

The Transparency Legal Advice Centre will provide free consultations with solicitors and can be accessed through the confidential Speak Up helpline on freephone 1800 844 866.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which drew up the whistleblower legislation, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, is helping fund the Speak Up helpline. Minister Paschal Donohoe said he is encouraged by the number of employers who back the principle of whistleblowing.

“Nevertheless, these results suggest much more needs to be done to raise awareness of the Protected Disclosures Act and to ensure organisations have measures in place to act on reports from their staff and make sure whistleblowers don’t suffer,” he said.

“A primary aim of the legislative framework that the Government put in place for protected disclosures is to ensure that workers feel safe when speaking up.”

The move to create legal protections for workplaces came after the Garda whistleblower controversies but also in the wake of the various banking scandals where it became clear that low and middle level staff often had concerns about practices but had no way of safely reporting their misgivings.

Another initiative launched by TI Ireland yesterday, the Integrity At Work programme, is inviting all employers in the public, private and non-profit sector to join up to avail of information and training to make their workplaces whistleblower-friendly.

TI Ireland chief executive, John Devitt, said it is important that neither employers nor employees are nervous of whistleblowing: “We tend to hear about those stories where people have suffered. They tend to make the headlines. But a sizeable proportion of the workforce have reported a concern and they haven’t suffered.”

“It’s important to point out that there is a good chance that people in the course of their careers will encounter wrongdoing at work and it is perfectly normal for them to share that information,” he added.


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