The Justice Department is reportedly investigating efforts by Barclays CEO Jes Staley to unmask a whistleblower who sent two anonymous letters to the bank’s board of directors complaining about the hiring of a mid-level executive. Barclays reportedly asked the U.S. Postal Service for assistance in tracking down the sender of the letters, though it claims that it never learned the identity of the individual. It is now being investigated for possible criminal charges and/or violations of the Dodd-Frank Act. The New York State Department of Financial Services is also investigating.
Barclays, based in the United Kingdom and operating in the United States as well as many other countries, falls under a wide range of regulations that protect whistleblowing. U.K., for example, requires big banks to permit employees to raise issues in confidence and appoint a whistleblowing champion among senior managers. Clearly, this message has not been conveyed to the top levels of management, since Barclays internal investigation has concluded the CEO honestly but mistakenly thought he was permitted to track down the sender of the letter.
This obviously doesn’t bode well for whistleblowers. Despite both anti-retaliation protections and an internal whistleblower champion, the CEO of the 16th largest bank in the world (measured by total assets in 2016 by Relbanks) failed to respect the whistleblower process. And what happened to the whistleblower champion? The whistleblower is fortunate that he or she didn’t trust the bank’s internal process and mailed the letter anonymously.
This conduct unfortunately does not surprise us. We have been disappointed more than once by the conduct of large corporations with respect to whistleblowers. It is for this reason that we suggest all employees secure a lawyer before complaining of corporate wrongdoing, whether internally or externally. The laws and regulations are complicated and you do not want to make a mistake that leaves you open to retaliation without a remedy.
We hope that the U.S. Government will send a message to Barclays. The fact that they are investigating the bank for improprieties with respect to this employee is in and of itself a step in the right direction.