Change in work culture essential to stamp out wrongdoing

One of the UK’s leading whistleblowing experts has claimed that rewards for whistleblowing and a change in work culture are vital if damaging public disclosures of information are to be avoided.

Speaking a Middlesex University public debate last night, Professor of employment law, David Lewis argued that employees need to know that they will be rewarded rather than be penalised if they speak out against wrongdoing such as bribery, fraud and other forms of malpractice.

Prof Lewis went as far as saying that he would welcome criminal charges against companies that victimised whistleblowers to send a clear signal to others that intimidation and retaliation would not be tolerated.

Prof Lewis spoke alongside Wendy Addison, an accountant who brought to light the fraudulent operations at South African company LeisureNet, who told of her 11 year battle to see justice despite threats against her life both in South Africa and even after she moved to the UK.

David Lewis, Professor of Employment Law at Middlesex University, said: “Employees need to understand that reporting wrongdoing in their company will not result in the loss of their job and intimidation from colleagues. If companies are prepared to protect, compensate or even reward whistleblowers, then other employees are more likely to confidentially report wrongdoing through the proper systems, ultimately avoiding embarrassing and financially damaging public disclosures for their company, made via the media or internet.”

In the fifth in the series of Middlesex University Law debates Prof Lewis, who is an internationally recognised authority on employment protection for whistleblowers, further argued that Governments should reward whistleblowers to encourage more companies to do the same. Consequently this would help break down the atmosphere of isolation and fear whistleblowers often experience when they report wrongdoing.

Professor Lewis’ research has shown that many businesses are still not doing enough to promote confidential reporting of wrongdoing. He visited the websites of all FTSE Top 100 companies (listed in December 2011) to search for information about how people could confidentially report issues like bribery or fraud and found that 69 of the 100 companies failed to display any information at all referring to whistleblowing. Consequently their contractors, suppliers, customers, members of the public, or staff who don’t want to search for such information on company intranets, may not know how to report concerns.