On 1 August 2014 the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) issued a report criticising the treatment of whistleblowers and the perceived failure by the UK Government to introduce effective law.

Hillsborough and the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust are cases which have led to whistleblowing becoming much more high profile, although the repercussions may be felt in many differing business sectors, leading as they have to questions being raised about whether existing whistle blowing protection for employees and workers is sufficient. The PAC report highlights that many employees have to show ‘remarkable bravery’ in order for cases to come to light. The report concluded that employees don’t know who they should report wrong doing or malpractice to, whistleblowers often face victimisation when they raise concerns and that there is a disconnect between what employer policies say and what happens in practice.

The PAC has detailed several recommendations within its report including:

  • Ensure whistleblowers are protected, supported and their welfare is monitored once claims have been made
  • Provide employees with clear guidance to report claims internally and externally
  • Provide greater transparency and regularly update whistleblowers on the progress of their case
  • Review current whistleblowing policies to assess the perceived effectiveness and how the arrangements work in practice

What does this mean for the retail sector?

The PAC report focuses on government departments, however businesses in the retail sector may wish to consider the Committee’s recommendations and review their own policies.  The Government has said it will work with relevant bodies to develop new guidance and to encourage a change in attitude towards whistleblowers. In part steps have already been taken with the introduction of employer liability for harassment or repercussions which a whistleblower faces from colleagues.

Retail businesses should also be aware of the new obligation, which will likely come in to force next year, for regulators to report whistleblowing claims. The legislation already states that allegations can only be raised outside the organisations to “Prescribed People” such as local authorities. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) want these specified  bodies to be required to report annually on pubic disclosures made to.  In addition to local authorities, this could also include the Health & Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and the Food Standards Agency on matters falling within their statutory responsibility. Although the employer entity or business will not be named in such reports, it will further highlight the issues and concerns of those reporting (who would also not be named) and may encourage further reporting.