The Government has published the results from its ‘Call for Evidence’ regarding the UK’s current whistleblowing laws and, to the surprise of many, reveals a particularly “light touch” approach to further change. The Government had pledged to take the conclusions of the Public Concern At Work Commission (“PCAW”) into account in its response but, whilst there is clearly consensus that greater guidance is needed for employers, the approach revealed by the Government steers away from many of PCAW’s recommendations and from increased legislation.
The Food and Drink Sector will be relieved to learn that the Response reveals little further legal intervention is deemed necessary, particularly so soon after last year’s changes. In particular, there are to be no changes to the recognised categories of wrong-doing, the categories remaining limited to just six, including the commission of a criminal offence, breach of legal obligation and damage to the environment. Similarly, just two additions are to be made to the categories of protected workers, which will not affect the sector; student nurses and LLP members.
Only a handful of changes will be introduced: a series of non-legislative changes, which are to be pursued imminently and minor legal changes to be effected by April 2015. In summary these involve:
- guidance and a model whistle-blowing policy;
- a new legal requirement that Regulators report on whistle-blowing annually;
- tweaks to list of prescribed persons and how it is updated , to make this more easily accessible; and
- minor adjustment to the categories of protected worker.
This latest announcement could leave many employers wondering just how the Government plans to bring about the cultural changes it champions. The answer to that question is unlikely to lie in the developments announced this week but in changes already in force, namely the introduction of vicarious liability on the part of employers for detrimental treatment of whistleblowers by colleagues and the potential for personal liability of managers.
Employers will note from the above proposals that at the heart of the limited changes is improved guidance, which should be seen as a welcome step in light of the highly regulated environment in which the Food and Drink Sector operates. However, employers who take this latest announcement to mean they can sit back and relax could be left exposed. Ahead of any of the proposed changes it may be helpful for employers to review their current whistleblowing policy and the protection they afford their whistleblowers to ensure they have adequate reporting procedures in place and that all staff are trained and made aware of their rights and obligations.