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Less than half of employers have a whistleblowing policy

07 August 2015 #Employment #Dispute Resolution


Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.

The whistleblowing charity, Public Concern at Work, has published this week some YouGov survey results showing that, surprisingly, only 48 per cent of workers  in a representative sample said their workplace had a whistleblowing policy. This was despite the fact that 81 percent of workers surveyed said they would raise a concern about possible corruption, danger or serious malpractice at work. In the last two years, 11 per cent of workers said they had such concerns. Of those, 59 percent had raised them with their employer.

Also surprising is the finding that 67 per cent of workers are either unaware that the law protects whistleblowers, or believe that there is no legal protection.

In a separate survey of all individuals seeking the charity’s help in 2014, 25 per cent were dismissed by their employer after raising their concerns and a further 24 per cent resigned. Whilst these figures are alarmingly high, as the charity itself points out, “It must be remembered that individuals are seeking advice from us because they are experiencing problems or sense the concern they are seeking to raise may be unwelcome. As such these figures are not representative of all workers who raise concerns in the workplace.”

The Public Concern and Work survey of those contacting the charity show some other interesting results, however.

The top issue being raised with the charity is financial malpractice (18 percent), closely followed by ethical concerns, which category includes issues such as exam malpractice, nepotism, cronyism and breach of data protection or confidentiality. Such concerns are often the most difficult to raise, perhaps explaining why the charity was contacted. It was contacted less in relation to work safety (9 per cent) or environment (1 per cent), perhaps because demonstrating some breach by the employer is more straight forward in those cases.

Education remains the sector from which the charity receives most calls, followed by the care and health sectors. However, that being so, 52 per cent of calls received came from the private sector, an increase on previous years, with the overall number from the public sector dropping.

Of those contacting the charity, in 53 per cent of cases the employer denied or ignored the concern raised. A further 13 percent of whistleblowers were not aware of the final outcome. In 33 per cent of cases, the whistleblower had a positive reaction whereby the concern was admitted, investigated or resolved.

People Management report’s the charity’s policy officer, Andy Parsons, as saying  that responsibility for improving this situation lies with HR: “What HR professionals should be doing is making sure there is a culture of protecting all who raise concerns, including reassuring those that are minded to raise concerns, that their issues will be supported and acted upon by those at the very top of the organisation.”

Parsons goes on to say: “Good employers should see whistleblowing as an early warning system about areas of concern in their business. The more whistleblowing becomes normalised – and is simply a process for referring improvements – the less people see it as dramatically 'unmasking' improper processes. Our research shows a lot of people who ‘blow the whistle’ don’t actually see themselves as campaigners. They’re just normal people who want to raise a small concern.”

Dismissal of an employee is automatically unfair if the reason, or principal reason, is that they have made a protected disclosure. There is no qualifying minimum period of service and, in whistleblowing cases, the usual upper limit on compensation does not apply. Whistleblowing claims are sometimes brought in order to try to get around the minimum service requirement. In addition, it is unlawful detriment for an employer to subject one of its workers to a detriment on the ground that they have made a protected disclosure The concept of a "worker" in the whistleblowing legislation is broad and includes, among others, agency workers and freelance workers as well as employees.

The information disclosed must, in the reasonable belief of the worker, tend to show that one of following has occurred, is occurring, or is likely to occur:

  • A criminal offence.
  • Breach of any legal obligation.
  • Miscarriage of justice.
  • Danger to the health and safety of any individual.
  • Damage to the environment.
  • The deliberate concealing of information about any of the above.

Further, the worker must reasonably believe that the disclosure is "in the public interest". From the above, it can be seen that whistleblowing issues can apply to employers of all sizes.

The law encourages disclosure to the employer as the primary method of whistleblowing and for this reason having a whistleblowing policy is key.  For more information on whistleblowing policies, contact us by calling 0118 953 3955 or email contact@employmentbuddy.com.

Steps to consider

  • Implement a whistleblowing policy setting out procedures by which staff can confidentially report concerns about illegal, unethical or otherwise unacceptable conduct.
  • Raise the profile of the policy internally and train management in its principles and operation.
  • Investigate disclosures promptly, and keep the whistleblower informed as to the progress where possible. 

 

For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at employmentunit@clarkslegal.com by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.

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