How to React When an Employee Is Whistleblowing

By: Together Abroad 05-12-2016

Categories:* Ethics ,

Whistleblowers are often seen as selfless vigilantes, watchmen of public interest and organisational accountability. Or as traitors, defectors and renegade double-crossers. The motivation factors that bring them into action vary from altruistic “wanting to do the right thing” to trivial “someone else was given the position I wanted”. In any case, if you are dealing with a whistleblower, you might be in real trouble and need to address the issue seriously.

What to Do When Your Employee Blows a Whistle

First off, you need to investigatethe nature of the complaint and whether the alleged wrongdoing is true or not. If the complaint relates to a serious fault (especially concerning health and safety regulations), it may be advisable to suspend the related process or activities pending the outcome of the investigation.

Next, you have to figure out whether the complaint is a personal grievance or whistleblowing. Depending on which one of the two it is, the employee in question may be entitled to legal protection under the House for Whistleblowers Act, which was adopted by the Upper House (the Dutch Senate) in March this year. In order to invoke legal protection, the complaint must fulfil three requirements: there must be a matter of a suspicion of abuse based on reasonable grounds, the notification must be made ‘in good faith hand as is fit and proper’, and the employee must have acted with all due care both in the procedural and in the material sense(for more information, you can go to

If your investigation proves the allegation to be true, it is advisable to deal with the matters openly, to demonstrate that your organisation takes such concerns seriously and exercises necessary disciplinary measures against the guilty party.

If, on the other hand, the allegations of wrongdoing prove to be unsubstantiated, it may be appropriate for disciplinary action to be taken against the whistleblower. However, first you must figure out whether their allegations were motivated by deliberate malice, or if it was simply an honest mistake. Distinguishing between the two can be extremely difficult, but may save you some headache in case the whistleblower makes claims in reaction to the disciplinary measures.

Aftermath of Whistleblowing

Many whistleblowers report that there exists a widespread tendency to “shoot the messenger” and they often become targets of mobbing – an extreme form of workplace bullying where the group is set against the individual. In response to this, some third party entities (like the Dutch House of Whistleblowers) offer protection to whistleblowers, although this protection is often limited and leaves whistleblowing employees exposed to social stigma, termination from their job position and sometimes even criminal charges.

From the organisation’s standpoint, its reputation is on the line, especially if the whistleblower leaked sensitive information externally, instead of filing their concerns internally. This is sure to impact the relationship with customers and business partners alike. Whether the allegations are substantiated or not, if the leader of the organisation challenges the whistleblower, there is an automatic indictment that makes the accused guilty until proven innocent. Mending the reputation of a whole brand may be a challenging process, although owning up to one’s mistakes and making active steps to improvement can help significantly.

To Prevent Whistleblowing, Encourage Whistleblowing

As counterintuitive as it may sound, encouraging employees to raise the issues of ethical and legal violations they may be aware of, and building a culture of trust in a workplace can prevent dire situations, which will make both the employer and the employee unhappy. Having proper tools and processes in place will ensure that action can be taken immediately, minimizing exposure and letting employees know that the organisation is serious about adherence to codes of conduct.

Moreover, if you run your business in the Netherlands and employ more than 50 employees, as of July 2016 you are required by law to have a whistleblowing policy in place. This regulation should contain information about how internal notifications are dealt with, what qualifies as a suspicion of misconduct, appointed person within the organisation to whom the notification can be presented, a clause that information shared in the notification will be treated as confidential upon request and assurance that the employee will be given the opportunity to confidentially consult an advisor. Also, it should clearly name conditions under which a suspicion may be disclosed externally. This regulation is to be approved by the Works Council.

Veronika Bacova

Photo credits: Designed by Katemangostar / Freepik