World Whistleblowers Day tomorrow is a reminder of the important role whistleblowers play in our society, speaking up to prevent harm.
For City professionals worried about the fact that their employer may be breaking the law it can seem that the only thing they can do to make the employer take note, and take corrective action, is to blow the whistle.
Strengthening of whistleblower protection through the law and also by regulators in the last few years means that the days when employers could afford to brush off their employees’ concerns are long gone. And it is not just issues that imperil the stability of the global financial system, or scandals like Libor and FX-rigging, that we are talking about.
The whistleblowing zeitgeist extends to professionals who are worried about whether their workplaces are Covid-secure enough to return to the office, and whether doing so will put themselves and their loved ones at risk. It is City staff worried about “non-financial” (for which you can read sexual) misconduct such as harassment — whether they or someone else has been the recipient. This may have been more common in pre-remote working times when staff were together in the office, but is reportedly also an issue in the virtual working environment. So why should employers take note? If a person raises the alarm with their employer about wrongdoing and is retaliated against, such as being demoted, having their bonus cut or at worst sacked, they can have high, sometimes very high value employment tribunal claims. The reputational damage can also be significant.
For those working in the regulated financial services sector, the FCA has put a strong emphasis on accountability in recent years and the whistleblowing arena is no exception. One outcome is that whistleblowers in financial services have broader protection than those in non-regulated sectors.
Importantly, the retaliators may be another colleague, as well as the firm, and the FCA’s rules state that if a person subjects a whistleblower to retaliation it could have an impact on their fitness and propriety record — the record needed to continue in their chosen career, not just in their current job.
Nick Wilcox is a partner at employment law firm BDBF