The act of whistleblowing is a vital but daunting undertaking. Whistleblowers play an essential role in maintaining transparency and ethical standards in the workplace. However, choosing to become a whistleblower can be a complex decision, with the fear of retaliation and risk to future career prospects being off-putting.
Anonymity is a consideration for many who want to blow the whistle. While every whistleblower in the UK has the option to remain anonymous, this choice is accompanied by unique challenges. Below we have explored whistleblower anonymity in more detail, providing insight and guidance for those contemplating blowing the whistle. Understanding the intricacies of whistleblowing employment law in the UK and the implications of choosing anonymity is crucial for anyone preparing to disclose workplace wrongdoing.
Understanding Whistleblowing in the Workplace
Whistleblowing can be defined as the act of disclosing information about wrongdoing within an organisation. These disclosures can relate to criminal offences, failure to comply with legal obligations, miscarriages of justice, health and safety risks, damage to the environment or the covering up of wrongdoings. When blowing the whistle, the wrongdoing could have happened in the past, be happening now or will happen in the future.
Legal Protection for Whistleblowers in the UK
In the UK, whistleblowers are protected by law, specifically the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996). This Act ensures that employees can make disclosures about wrongdoing within their organisation without fear of detriment or dismissal. Whistleblowing law protects employees, workers, trainees, agency workers and members of LLPs.
Under the ERA 1996, a disclosure qualifies for protection if the whistleblower has a reasonable belief that the wrongdoing has occurred and it is in the public interest to disclose it. When disclosing information, it must be done so to a prescribed person too. Ensuring that you make a protected disclosure in the correct way is crucial, whether or not you wish to remain anonymous.
The Option of Anonymity
One of the most significant concerns for whistleblowers is the risk of being identified, leading to possible repercussions. Maintaining anonymity can sometimes be a critical factor in deciding whether or not to blow the whistle.
Anonymity helps protect your identity while enabling you to raise concerns about wrongdoing, making the workplace safer for everyone involved. When an employer is not aware that you were the person who blew the whistle, you will not have to worry about workplace bullying or harassment, experiencing financial disadvantage, being denied promotions or being unfairly dismissed. However, it is important to consider that anonymity can also present challenges and we will look into these in more detail below.
How to Protect Your Identity
If you want to blow the whistle on wrongdoing whilst maintaining anonymity, there are a few crucial steps to take;
- Seek Legal Advice – Before disclosing information, it is advisable to seek legal advice from experts in whistleblowing employment law. Legal professionals can provide guidance on the process, help you understand your rights and advise on the best approach to maintain anonymity.
- Understand Your Company’s Whistleblowing Policy – It is always beneficial to familiarise yourself with your organisation’s whistleblowing policy. This policy should outline the process for making a disclosure internally and detail how the company protects a whistleblower’s identity.
- Document Everything – Keep a detailed record of the wrongdoing you are reporting and the steps you are taking to report it. This documentation can be crucial if you face retaliation or legal challenges in the future. In whistleblowing cases, the records you keep can become key evidence.
- Consider External Bodies – If you are concerned about anonymity when reporting wrongdoing within your organisation, you can report to external people and bodies. A prescribed person will have policies in place to protect whistleblowers and ensure you remain anonymous throughout.
Challenges of Anonymity
Although anonymity offers peace of mind and a degree of protection, it can also present unique difficulties, particularly in the context of legal proceedings. Sometimes, remaining anonymous may impact the credibility or the level of detail in a complaint, potentially affecting the outcome. It can also impact the investigation process due to the lack of direct communication with the whistleblower and the need for sufficient information to take action.
One significant challenge in maintaining anonymity is the potential impact on legal claims. In cases where whistleblowers wish to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal, remaining anonymous can be a double-edged sword. If your employer was not aware that you made the disclosure, this could potentially weaken your position in a tribunal claim. The crux of the issue lies in proving that any negative treatment experienced was a direct result of the whistleblowing. Without clear evidence linking your identity to the disclosure, it becomes more challenging to establish this crucial connection.
Not to mention, even when remaining anonymous and being protected by whistleblowing employment law, whistleblowers can still face workplace isolation, professional backlash and personal stress. In some circumstances, these challenges can be exacerbated when a whistleblower’s identity is concealed, as they may feel even more disconnected and unsupported in their work environment.
Speak to an Employment Law Specialist
Whistleblowing in the workplace plays a pivotal role in maintaining ethical standards and accountability in organisations. While the act of whistleblowing can be daunting, understanding your rights and the protections available to you under UK employment law can empower you to act. By taking informed steps and seeking some professional advice for whistleblowers, you can protect your identity while contributing to a more ethical work environment.
If you find yourself in a position where you need to blow the whistle, our team at Nationwide Employment Lawyers is here to support you. We know how stressful and time-consuming employment law issues and Employment Tribunal claims can be, and our experienced team is here to shoulder the burden. We have a superb record in representing our clients and over the years, we have worked on an array of complicated whistleblowing cases. Our experts will be committed to winning your case and ensuring you have the best possible prospect of succeeding, regardless of the circumstances.
Get in touch with our team today to learn more about how we can help you.