A whistle. What’s wrong with corporate culture? – Employment and HR


UK: A whistle. What’s wrong with corporate culture?

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No one goes to their workplace hoping to find out about wrongdoing. Yet, if a person discovers a serious problem, such as a financial irregularity or a security breach, their next steps could define the rest of their career – perhaps the rest of their life.

“Organizations are full of mission statements, values ​​and expressive policies,” says Meriel Schindler, senior partner of Withers’ London employment team. “Everyone talks about transparency. But when someone brings up something that is uncomfortable, the people in charge don’t always welcome it.”

Few whistleblower cases are made public, but Meriel’s experience suggests that the vast majority are following the pattern of well-known examples such as Sherron Watkins, a former vice president of Enron who highlighted accounting fraud and corruption. to her CEO, who immediately sought advice on how to fire her.

A whistleblower consulted us after being fired from a large bank, where he had worked in the exchange. As reported in the press, the dismissal came in the wake of the LIBOR benchmark-rigging scandal, which cost global banks more than £ 10 billion in regulatory fines. The case was eventually settled – but more than a year later the whistleblower still hasn’t found another banking job.

Faced with these bleak prospects, many people choose to quit their jobs without reporting. Still others feel a moral imperative to speak out.

This was the case with Pav Gill, the Singapore-based in-house lawyer who discovered serious financial irregularities at Wirecard. To remain silent would have meant compromising his professional ethics. However, his principles cost him dearly. After Wirecard tried to crack down on Pav’s whistle-blowing attempts and open Red Flag investigations, he was forced to quit Wirecard. Subsequently, he lived in fear for his personal safety, facing reprisals from the company in the form of intimidation, threats and follow-up. “It took enormous courage for Pav to do what he did, at the cost of drawing the wrath of Wirecard,” observes Amarjit Kaur, the partner who advised Pav.

The lack of proper legislation to protect whistleblowers means employer retaliation is common in Singapore, Amarjit says. Yet employees continue to report wrongdoing, often believing that their multinational employers will protect them from, for example, bullying or harassment. “Employees often hope that the bad behavior will stop. They may also have a greater ideal of preventing others from having the same experience, ”says Amarjit, who is also our primary global partner for diversity and inclusion.

A senior executive at a large company headquartered in the United States told a human resources manager that she was sexually harassed by her boss. Instead of investigating, her colleague said she was lucky – the man was good looking. The harassment continued, affecting the well-being of the whistleblower as she was forced to take mental health leave, during which she was fired.

We were able to negotiate an almost unprecedented settlement with the company, which needed to protect its reputation after similar accusations surfaced in the media. The whistleblower was delighted, but remains traumatized by her experience and by a potentially damaging gap in her CV. “This is blatant behavior and employers do it with impunity“, comments Amarjit.

The experience of whistleblowers may be more positive in the United States, where the Securities Exchange Commission offers money to whistleblowers to report information that leads to prosecution. More than $ 700 million has been paid to more than 100 people since the program began in 2012.

Whatever legal protections are available, however, it is likely that reputations on both sides will be damaged, as Pav Gill reflected in an interview with the Financial Times. “I don’t like the term whistleblower, honestly,” he said.

Staying silent, of course, also comes with risks. Several of Mr. Gill’s former Wirecard colleagues are now in custody for fraud. If he had made a less well-founded decision, he might have found himself among them.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.

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