HR · 18 December 2017

Whistleblowing is on the rise within small UK businesses

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Over eight in ten workers at small UK firms have reported illegal practices in the past or would do so

British workers are more likely than any European counterparts to report malpractice at work, as new research reveals a sudden spike in whistleblowing at small UK companies.

In a continent-wide study, conducted by The Software Alliance, a trade group established by Microsoft to fight the unlicensed software market, 12,000 small business workers across the UK, Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland and France were asked how likely they were to report illegal behaviour by their employer.

According to the findings, 13 per cent of Britain’s small business employees were already aware of illegal or unethical practices within their place of work, roughly the same number found across Europe.

However, when it came to turning whistleblower, UK workers were most ready to call out their employer. Over eight in ten had reported illegal practices in the past or would be willing to do so for a financial reward, compared to three-quarters of European workers.

The Software Alliance found out the kinds of behaviour most likely to be reported by UK workers

  • Bullying or discrimination – 73 per cent
  • Fraud – 73 per cent
  • Theft of company property – 61 per cent
  • Embezzlement – 58 per cent
  • Failure to meet industry regulations – 44 per cent

Attitudes were seemingly more relaxed across the continent, where just two-thirds of workers would report bullying or fraud.

The findings arrived alongside an increase in the whistleblowing instances within UK businesses, from 290 in 2015 to 450 in 2017.

Whistleblowing: The law

Whistle-blowers are protected by law in Britain, meaning workers cannot be treated unfairly or dismissed for reporting criminal behaviour, such as fraud or use of unlicensed software, or health and safety risks.

With whistleblowing evidently on the rise, The Software Alliance urged workers to report malpractice within their organisation, promising financial rewards.

The organisation cited one UK engineering firm which was forced to pay out £21,000 in 2017 for using unlicensed software.

Sarah Coombes, The Software Alliance’s EMEA managing director for compliance and enforcement, warned small business owners to ensure practices remained within the law.

“With UK employees more likely to shop their bosses than their European counterparts, [small business owners] should make sure they have their house in order and aren’t putting themselves at risk of serious reputational or financial damage.

“Whether that’s by reviewing all their IT practices or having an overhaul of their business processes, the results of our survey show that the time to act is now.”

Unlicensed software is continuing to cost small business owners

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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