U.K. Begins to Advance Protection of Whistleblowers

U.K. Begins to Advance Protection of Whistleblowers

Jes Staley, the American CEO of Barclays went after whistleblowers the American way – “get that rat!” This time the U.K.’s Prudential Regulation Authority and Financial Conduct did something about it. They called it an ethical breach and put pressure on Barclays to do something. Barclays issued a statement stating it reprimanded Mr. Staley and will make a “significant” cut to his bonus.

How does this balance out? The whistleblower loses his or her career and the executive who cause that damage may lose some part of their future bonus.

In the U.S., the SEC insists on revealing the name of the whistleblower if there is a settlement. The SEC justifies its policy by claiming it is merely trying to buttress internal reporting. In my experience, corporations circle the wagons when there is credible whistleblowing. Corporate counsel interrogates and human resources attempts to find legal grounds to terminate. Investigators comb the whistleblower’s computer and office looking for something negative. Usually whistleblowing is a career ending exercise in the U.S. The U.K. does not give rewards to whistleblowers. The SEC does but refuses to allow anonymous filings. It allows temporary anonymity if the whistleblower uses an attorney to file the claim.

Like many CEOs, Mr. Staley apparently thinks whistleblowers are disloyal and he felt in this case it was “an unfair personal attack.” After he was told it was not appropriate to inquire into the identity of the whistleblower, he continued to pressure his internal security investigator for the information. A U.S. law-enforcement agency was asked to help.

Consider Wells Fargo Bank. It has filed a press release claiming it is clawing back compensation of certain executives it fired in their recent scandal. Actual it is attempting to negotiate a reduction of future benefits. The Wells Fargo fraud was finally revealed after several whistleblowers lost their jobs and careers. Why is Wells Fargo not contacting them and trying to help them get their careers back on track? Because whistleblowers are tattle-tale scum?

Perhaps the case of Jes Staley points to a new day. Whistleblowers need protection not because they are usually right or nice people (often they are not), but because they can be the main line of defense against corporate abuse and fraud. If executives are walking in the light, they have nothing to fear. As Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote, “”Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants;. . . .”1 Louis D. Brandeis, Chapter IV: What Publicity Can Do, New York: Harper’s Weekly (December 20, 1913)

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Louis D. Brandeis, Chapter IV: What Publicity Can Do, New York: Harper’s Weekly (December 20, 1913)

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