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It's time to dust off and update your whistle-blowing policy

A survey quoted in a recent consultation document found that fewer than half of UK workers knew their employer's whistleblowing policy two years ago. Perhaps awareness has improved over the last few months thanks to new regulations being introduced this month. But either way, it's important that organisations maintain a robust and well-understood whistle-blowing policy.

There's a strong business case for ensuring that staff at your organisation are aware and understand your whistle-blowing policy. Firstly, it helps to define the boundaries of unacceptable conduct and makes it easier for employers to find out when something has gone wrong.

An effective policy will also make it more likely that whistle-blowers make disclosures within organisations and find appropriate recourse without the need for damaging revelations being made to the media or other outside bodies. This in itself should reduce the risk that whistle-blowers bring employment tribunal claims.

Changes to whistle-blowing laws being brought in at the end of July provide the perfect opportunity for organisations to bring their policies up to date and to make sure their workers are aware of them. For instance, disclosures will no longer have to be made 'in good faith', but they do need to be 'in the public interest' to be protected.

The update should include a reappraisal of disciplinary policies so that they make clear any victimisation of a whistle-blower will not be tolerated. Similarly, whistle-blowers who feel that they have been or are being victimised should be provided with a channel for redress in an organisation's grievance procedures. Under the changes, employers may be held 'vicariously liable' for employees who victimise whistle-blowers. As a result, they should be able to show they took all reasonable steps to prevent any victimisation.

It's not only workers who should be aware of their whistle-blowing policy. Managers should also understand it so that they are in a position to act accordingly if a worker raises a problem.

As well as offering general advice on Whistle-blowing, Acas runs practical training courses in how to manage Discipline and grievance procedures and how to conduct fair Investigations.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects page for more information or for free impartial advice on any employment relations issue visit Helpline Online.

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