HR & Management


Time’s up! How to blow the whistle on wrongdoers in the workplace

6 Mins

According to a recent survey by lawyers Slater and Gordon, a third of British workers said they would be scared to blow the whistle on their employer and reveal illegal or dangerous practices.

The main reasons behind this whistleblowing reticence were a fear of losing their job, the impact it would have on their career and how they would be treated by colleagues.

Of those who had blown the whistle, half of people said they were made to feel unwelcome afterwards in the workplace and a third said their colleagues had even stopped talking to them.

That’s a disgrace considering some of the practices the survey respondents told Slater and Gordon about – including a doctor secretly filming patients, forging of court documents and train drivers smoking cannabis on the job.

Whistleblowing is a difficult thing to do tapping into childhood feelings of “ratting” on friends but done correctly it can help businesses and even save lives.

So a good time then to have a basic reminder of how to blow the whistle.

What is a whistleblower?

According to the CIPD, whistleblowing occurs when an employee or worker provides certain types of information, usually to the employer or a regulator, which has come to their attention through work. 

The disclosure may be about the alleged wrongful conduct of the employer, or about the conduct of a fellow employee, client, or any third party. The whistle blower is usually not directly, personally affected by the danger or illegality, although they may be. 

Whistleblowing is therefore “making a disclosure in the public interest” and occurs when a worker raises a concern about danger or illegality that affects others, for example members of the public.

The incident can have happened in the past, present or something you think might happen in the near future.

As a whistleblower you are legally protected – in other words you shouldn’t be treated unfairly or lose your job as a result of blowing the whistle.

Read more about the subject:

Who is protected?

According to the government, you’re protected if you are a worker such as

  • An employee, such as a police officer, NHS employee, office worker, factory worker 
  • A trainee, such as a student nurse
  • An agency worker

You’re also protected if you make a complaint about:

  • A criminal offence, e.g. fraud
  • Someone’s health and safety is in danger
  • Risk or actual damage to the environment
  • A miscarriage of justice
  • The company is breaking the law, e.g. doesn’t have the right insurance
  • You believe someone is covering up wrongdoing 

Complaints that don’t count are personal grievances such as bullying and harassment unless it is in the public interest. Report these under your employer’s grievance policy.

Employees and workers who make a “protected disclosure” can make a claim to an employment tribunal if they’re treated badly or dismissed.

Who do you tell?

Tell your employer if they have a whistleblowing policy or not. Alternatively tell a prescribed person or body such as Audit Scotland, the HMRC or the Children’s Commissioner.

You can tell your employer or a prescribed person anonymously but they may not be able to take the claim further if you haven’t provided all the information they need.

You can give your name but request confidentiality – the person or body you tell should make every effort to protect your identity. If you report your concern to the media, in most cases you’ll lose your whistleblowing law rights.

What will my employer do?

According to the government, your employer or the prescribed person will listen to your concern and decide if any action is needed. You may be asked for further information. You must say straight away if you don’t want anyone else to know it was you who raised the concern.

Your employer or the prescribed person can keep you informed about the action they’ve taken, but they can’t give you much detail if they have to keep the confidence of other people.

If you believe your concern wasn’t taken seriously or if the wrongdoing is still happening then tell another member or staff or a prescribed body. Don’t give up.

If you are treated unfairly after blowing the whistle – you can take a case to an employment tribunal. Contact the whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work for more information.

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