How to deal with a misbehaving boss: Don’t assume that all whistleblowing staff will be treated equally

It can be hard to say no when you don’t want to face your boss’s wrath
There are many hurdles to jump when it comes to progressing your career. All you want to do is show how good you are and how hard you work, but sadly office politics will always need to be added to the mix.
Something many will have to contend with at some point is how to deal with a manager who decides to go “off script” and act in breach of the company’s procedures. Indeed, what do you do if your boss seeks to rope you in on the mischief? And what happens if, in any subsequent disciplinary process, you’re the one who takes the blame?

COMPANY REACTION

Let us start with what the company should do. Most organisations will want to (or at least say that they will) follow best practice, which means conducting proper investigations before anyone is disciplined. In fact, in many sectors – certainly financial services, for example – there is no choice other than to follow formal processes in order to comply with regulatory obligations. You then have a wealth of employment legislation, which should mean that, if such wrongdoing comes to light, any disciplinary procedure is followed fairly.
One would think that everybody is given the same level of protection. Regrettably, that’s not always the case. The key question for any company to ask itself, in a situation where a disciplinary process involves more than one individual who has committed a wrongdoing, should be: are we treating everyone fairly, as far as possible?

EMPLOYEE REACTION

As an employee, if nobody else is disciplined other than you, you do have good grounds to complain. However, this isn’t the case if you have just arrived – then, you generally have no unfair dismissal protection. Quite simply, the company can do what it wishes, no matter how perverse, unfair or wrong it is. There is a notable exception when it comes to whistleblowing, which we will come on to in a minute.
But if you have been with a company for over two years, you will get the benefit of unfair dismissal protection. If a group is acting mischievously – regardless of their position – then all should have the same action taken against them.
There could be other mitigating circumstances. Let’s imagine a scenario where you are instructed by your boss to act in a certain way. You are then between a rock and a hard place, knowing that you are doing something wrong, but similarly not wanting to face the wrath of your boss if you say no. The obvious question is, if you are caught out, does this give you a defence? You are still complicit in the wrongdoing, but your culpability may be lessened if you are simply doing what you have been told to do.

WHISTLEBLOWING

This brings us on to whistleblowing. Arguably, this is an under-used protection, but if invoked correctly, and in the right circumstances, it should give you protection as an employee from day one.
First, you have to disclose your concerns to the appropriate person, usually within the company. The disclosure needs to relate to a prohibited area, such as a criminal offence, breaches of legal obligations, and so forth. Once you have blown the whistle, if/when you suffer any detriment – say you are disciplined or even sacked – then you have a claim.
A concern for many employees has always been that, if they do blow the whistle, they will be treated less favourably by their employer anyway. But the question you have to ask yourself is, if you’re concerned that you are being asked to do things that are simply wrong, shouldn’t you raise this as an issue regardless, rather than stay silent and face the consequences of being disciplined yourself?

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