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HR professionals most fearful of whistleblowing reprisals

Almost three-quarters (73%) of HR professionals fear that senior management would treat them less favourably, or even look for ways to terminate their contracts, if they blew the whistle on wrongdoing, according to research by law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

The report, Fair Game or Foul Play?, is based on a global survey of more than 2,500 middle and senior managers. It suggests HR professionals fear the consequences of whistleblowing more than employees in any other area. Across all staff, the figure who are worried about unfavourable treatment is only 37%.

Despite HR professionals' concerns, 36% of middle or senior managers within HR would still consider blowing the whistle. More than one in 10 (12%) have thought about doing so in the past.

HR managers are also most likely to encourage employees with concerns to go directly to a regulator (23%) or even straight to the media (14%). However, more than half (53%) of respondents said there is either no formal process for whistleblowing within their organisation or one that is publicised.

Caroline Stroud, global practice group leader for Freshfields’ employment, pensions and benefits team, warned that many companies are "ill-prepared" to deal with concerns raised by their employees.

"Corporates need to adopt sufficient internal reporting systems to recognise and manage these matters more effectively," she said.

"Given the high-level nature of whistleblowers’ issues such as financial mismanagement, corruption or criminal activities, and the related major reputational risks, adequate whistleblowing procedures are clearly a board-level issue."