The demands for “whistle blowing” employees to be given more protection are growing. The following stories selected from the daily news newsletter Risk Channel highlight this trend. The U.K. Government is to review whistleblowing rules imminently to decide if they are “fit for purpose”. In the U.S., institutional investors are pressurising companies to revise protections. Expect a new less negatively connotative term for this area soon. It’s a live issue and employers need to have tangible policies and frameworks in place and our daily summary of the news in this area is indispensable in spotting the trends and reading how employers are addressing such issues.

Investor wants whistleblowing review at Alphabet

14-Apr-2021 | Wall Street Journal

Trillium Asset Management has filed a shareholder proposal to Google parent Alphabet calling on the technology company to review protections for employees who voice human rights concerns. It’s the second consecutive year in which the investor group has submitted a shareholder proposal urging the Alphabet board to oversee a third-party review of the effectiveness of the company’s internal whistleblower program in protecting human rights, observing that recent incidents suggest the company may have potential internal cultural or ethics problems. “Investors for the most part are familiar with whistleblowing systems and protections and really prize whistleblower protections because, at the end of the day, they do protect long-term investors like Trillium,” said Jonas Kron, the Boston-headquartered firm’s chief advocacy officer. Nell Minow, vice chair of ValueEdge Advisors, which advises institutional investors on corporate governance issues, said Trillium’s proposal delivers a powerful message to Alphabet whether it is adopted or not. “Whistleblowing hasn’t hitherto been a priority for investors who are focused on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues, but it falls on the list, she said. “ESG is all about risk management,” she observed, “and whistleblowing is right in the middle of that.”

Walmart whistleblower swallowed by IRS ‘black hole’

08-Jul-2019 | Bloomberg

Bloomberg Tax looks at a whistleblowing case brought by Charles Middleton, a former tax executive at Walmart and billionaire Bill Koch’s Oxbow Carbon firm. In confidential filings with the IRS, Mr Middleton alleged that the two companies engaged in questionable practices that he estimated resulted in more than $250m in tax dodges by Walmart and $350m by Oxbow - allegations both companies vehemently deny. The claims remain unresolved; one of Mr Middleton’s lawyers says he is unclear as to the progress made on them by the IRS. The cases reflect a level of secrecy particular to the IRS’s whistleblower program. The tax code prohibits IRS employees from disclosing tax information about an individual or company - which the IRS, according to reports from its whistleblower office, interprets as a need to limit interaction after claims are filed. Lawyers say the limited communication can leave hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes uncollected and frustrate people who put their careers on the line. “And you don’t want a lot of whistle-blowers out there bad-mouthing the program,” because new whistle-blowers won’t come forward, said Stephen M. Kohn, an attorney at Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, who represents such individuals. The agency, in most cases, has a one-interview policy with whistle-blowers, according to Mr Kohn and the IRS’s own reports, after which it is the “Black Hole of Calcutta,” he added.

Furloughed employees say they are being bullied to continue working

22-May-2020 | The Daily Telepgraph

Two UK whistleblowing organisations have reported a surge in calls from employees being pressured into falsely claiming that they are furloughed while their companies profit through the government’s furlough scheme. The UK’s main whistleblowing charity, Protect, said that 36% of its Covid-19-related calls involved furlough fraud, and that the number is continuing to rise. WhistleblowersUK said its helpline is receiving calls from staff whose bosses have threatened to fire them if they did not continue working despite being furloughed. Co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for whistleblowing, Baroness Kramer, said: "At a time like this when we as taxpayers are stepping forward to give people a lifeline, this abuse seems even more outrageous." The charities have identified three types of furlough scams: furloughing staff but forcing them to continue working; furloughing staff without telling them, where they only discover this through their pay; and claiming furlough cash for a fake employee who does not work at the company. 

UK Government reviews whistleblowing rules

23-Mar-2021 | The Daily Telegraph

The government is to review rules on whistleblowing to make sure that they are "fit for purpose." The move comes as research reveals that a record number of employees claim to have lost their jobs for speaking up. Figures show that more than 2,289 employment tribunal cases where a worker claims they were sacked for whistleblowing were made between April and December 2020, with this marking a record high for the number of Public Interest Disclosure cases over a nine-month period. The charity Protect says one in four whistleblowers who have raised concerns about workplaces have been dismissed between September and March. Protect has called on ministers to consider bringing sanctions against companies that breach rules around speaking out. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “No worker should lose their job for whistleblowing,” adding that officials have upgraded the whistleblowing regime to provide support for those who speak up. “We will be reviewing these reforms to ensure they remain fit for purpose,” the spokesperson added.

UK Regulator launches whistleblower campaign

25-Mar-2021 | City AM

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has launched a new campaign calling on whistleblowers to expose potential wrongdoing in financial services. The regulator said those who whistleblow will have a dedicated case manager, can meet with the FCA to discuss their concerns, and will receive regular updates throughout a subsequent investigation. Mark Steward, the FCA’s Executive Director of Enforcement and Market Oversight, said: “We listen to all whistleblowers and, if they shine a light on serious misconduct, we want to make sure we act responsibly. When whistleblowing works well it helps consumers, markets and firms and keeps everyone safe and that is our aim.” The move follows criticism that the FCA failed to act when it was given important information about disgraced investor Neil Woodford and his business some two years before Woodford’s fund was suspended.

WhistleB co-founder interviewed about EU whistleblower protection law

21-Oct-2019 | Mondaq

The co-founder of Stockholm-headquartered global whistleblowing SaaS provider WhistleB has been interviewed in Swedish business daily Dagens Industri about the EU's whistleblower protection legislation. The law requires all EU employers with more than 50 staff to provide internal channels for workers to report their suspicions or concerns about unethical behaviour in the workplace. Gunilla Hadders, founding partner of WhistleB, notes that the new law has been linked to WhistleB's own Sustainable Companies ranking, which this year indicates a rapid increase in the awareness of the importance of whistleblowing systems. In official reports, 78% of organisations highlighted their organisational whistleblowing systems, compared to 62% last time.

How whistleblowing became an industry

02-Jan-2020 | The Guardian

Writing for The Guardian, Kalyeena Makortoff examines how advising companies on setting up a whistleblower service has become more prevalent in the wake of the #MeToo movement and a high-profile scandal at Barclays. Mary Inman, a partner at law firm Constantine Cannon, said the £642,000 fine imposed by the Financial Conduct Authority last year on the Barclays CEO, Jes Staley, for trying to unmask a whistleblower has triggered a surge in business for companies that provide whistleblowing programmes. Ms Inman comments: “It’s a cultural change that needs to happen. And what needed to happen in Barclays was the tone from the top. We really need to mean it when we say: ‘We want to hear from you about problems.’”

EY China faces mismanagement claims

15-Feb-2021 | The Daily Telegraph

EY in China is facing whistleblowing claims. The firm is accused of looking the other way when its client, wireless telecommunication equipment maker Xinwei Group, failed to disclose a risky stock purchase. A whistleblower says that when she raised concerns, she was told by senior managers that the investment was not risky, and the matter should be dropped. She claims her warnings were ignored by senior employees, and EY failed to raise them in the audit. A spokesman for EY China said the firm is “fully committed to offering the highest standards of audit services by leveraging robust audit methodology, tools and policies.” The claims come in the wake of Chinese regulators telling Deloitte to investigate similar claims made by a whistleblower who alleges there were five serious breaches of good practice between 2016 and 2017.

Uptick in GDPR whistleblowing

08-Sep-2020 | The Daily Telegraph

The number of people reporting GDPR breaches to the UK data protection watchdog rose by a third last year, figures show. A total of 427 reports were made to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in the 12 months to the end of March, according to professional services firm RPC. The ICO took "further action" on 68 of the reports, with a further 23 considered for investigation, down from 55 in 2018. Reports to the watchdog have surged since the introduction of the GDPR legislation two years ago. Before that, 140 reports had been made. Under the legislation, companies are obliged to inform the ICO within 48 hours of discovering a cyber-attack that affects personal data.

Whistleblowing is becoming more accepted, says Norberg

19-Apr-2021 | Wall Street Journal

Jane Norberg, the departing chief of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s whistleblower office, has praised the regulator’s cash-for-tips programme. The initiative was enacted by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act and has since received more than 40,000 tips, with a record number seen in the year to September 2020. Speaking ahead of her departure, Ms Norberg said: “One thing I hope the programme has accomplished is that whistleblowing is becoming more accepted as the fabric of normalcy.” She added that it has helped investors and companies see the value in creating an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up over potential wrongdoing.

Revolving door for whistleblowers

09-Sep-2016 | Wall Street Journal

The growth of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s whistleblowing program has made it an increasingly lucrative field for law firms, reports the Wall Street Journal, noting that the former head of the program is joining a law firm that represents those same tipsters. Sean McKessy, who left his post as the first chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower in July, is joining Washington-based Phillips & Cohen in a move which the Journal says, "highlights the potential profitability of legal work that didn’t even exist a few years ago."

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