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Confidential reporting or whistleblowing?

Quick viewpoint from Rob Miles

It’s a question anyone involved with confidential reporting gets asked sooner or later, and much as we may be frustrated by the question, those who ask it deserve an answer.

Whistleblowing is the process of calling the relevant authorities’ attention to a wrongdoing, in general a breach in legal compliance. It comes from the historical practice of using a whistle to summon the Police. The whistleblower’s intention is to protect the wider public or the public purse from being defrauded or endangered by an organisation that is intentional breaking the law for gain and concealing it. A number of whistle blowing cases have involved individual employees exposing anti-competitive cartel practices by their employers. In these cases the senior management will have colluded to fix process at a higher rate to the detriment of customers. As this could benefit many employees though higher bonuses the whistleblower’s action is generally not welcomed by co-workers and so while they usually have public support they almost always have to seek work elsewhere. Whistleblowing is usually against the employer and viewed very negatively be management. Whistleblowing in an organisation indicates a poor corporate culture.

Confidential reporting is the process of alerting management to operational concerns, the majority of these concerns will be safety but they could be avoidable waste and efficiency too. Employees making confidential reports do so with the best interests of their employers and co-workers in mind and experience shows that the majority have openly reported their concerns to their line managers before submitting a confidential report. Organisations are not perfect and sometimes these concerns are not addressed; their significance may not be recognised; they may get lost in the system; or often no one knows who to tell or how to take it forward. In these situations employees turn to confidential reporting to get something done and in turn those who take the report see it as their role to verify the facts and put them before senior management in a balanced and clear manner and then to follow the issue to resolution. Confidential reports are welcomed by senior managers, they are a valuable “heads up” on emerging problems or issues that have “gone below the radar”. Organisations that introduce confidential reporting typically begin by encouraging reports. Confidential reporting is seen as an important element in an effective safety culture.

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