Whistleblowing in the workplace

The recent allegations against Russell Brand in the mainstream media have highlighted the importance of workplace safety, an employer’s duty of care and the need for strong whistleblowing policies for businesses.

Whistleblowing is the colloquial term commonly used to describe the disclosure by a worker of some wrongdoing (such as fraud, misleading the public or criminal activities) by the employer or its employees.

Recent explosive claims in the news have shown that corrupt, illegal and immoral practices can easily go undetected if employees fear the consequences of reporting them.

Our head of client services, Sue Watson, says that the Russell Brand case has highlighted that businesses must develop a culture that encourages the early internal disclosure of genuine concerns, take those concerns seriously and protect anyone who raises genuine beliefs about wrongdoing.

“I think if recent events have proved anything it is that organisations need to ensure that they live and breathe their policies,” said Sue. “It is vital to ensure that staff feel able to bring their concerns to the appropriate people, knowing that those concerns will be listened to and acted upon without any recourse.”

Encouraging employees to raise any concerns is a good way of identifying risks. However, the charity Protect – previously known as Public Concern at Work – says that in more than half (52%) of cases, the employer denied or ignored whistleblowing concerns.

The charity, which works with organisations on improving speak up arrangements and campaigns for better legal protection of whistleblowers, also revealed that almost two thirds of the callers to their advice line last year reported some kind of detrimental treatment as a result of speaking up.

More than half of the whistleblowers who contact them were dismissed or resigned after raising their concern.

Eight out of ten whistleblowers suffered some form of reprisal. The top issue raised in 2022 was working practices and governance (36%). One fifth of concerns were over ethical issues and 13% flagged abuse of vulnerable people.

A disclosure from a whistleblower must relate to either a criminal offence, the breach of a legal obligation, a miscarriage of justice, a risk to the health and safety of any individual, damage to the environment or concealment of any of those.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 came hot on the heels of a number of high-profile cases where, if employees had had the confidence and the protection to raise concerns earlier, the loss of life could have been prevented.

These included the Clapham rail crash in 1988 and infant deaths at Bristol Royal Infirmary in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

A protected disclosure for whistleblowing purposes must be a disclosure of information, not just an opinion, and the person who subjects the claimant to a detriment has to know about the disclosure, and for this to have materially influenced the claimant’s treatment.

Sue added: “It takes a great deal of courage and honour to raise concerns to your management team but by doing so, a whistleblower can really make a difference to the working environment and help protect vulnerable colleagues.

“A disclosure does not have to be made in a particular manner but to qualify for protection, the disclosure must be in the public interest and the worker must have genuinely believed that the information they imparted was accurate and not been motivated by personal gain.”

In respect of the Russell Brand case, the BBC are carrying out an internal investigation in order to understand whether people were told, whether matters were raised and how they were addressed.

We are here to help

If you are concerned about malpractice in your workplace or require help implementing a whistleblowing policy, contact HR Solutions at 0844 324 5840.




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