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Whistleblowing: are you taking it seriously enough?

Employment / 18 November 2020

Earlier this month Protect, the whistleblowing charity, published a report looking at whistleblowing practices during the pandemic.  Whilst based solely on information provided to Protect by employees, the report highlights some significant findings that will be of interest to employers.

Key findings

After analysing over 600 calls between March and September 2020, the charity reports (amongst other things) that:

—  41% of those who raised Covid-19 concerns were ignored by their employer.  This figure rose to 43% if the whistleblower was raising a concern about public safety risks;

—  Interestingly, managers were more at risk of dismissal than non-managers – 32% of managers who raised Covid-19 concerns were allegedly dismissed for doing so, compared to 21% of non-managers.  This may indicate that organisations find it easier to admit concerns from more junior staff because managers are expected to deal with issues or defend the status quo;

—  62% of the cases dealt with related to furlough fraud.  The majority of these related to situations where workers have either been asked or told to go back to work even though they are part of the furlough scheme;

—  90% of concerns about furlough fraud were raised with employers before being taken to the regulator – highlighting that employees feel compelled to raise issues internally first; and

—  Furlough fraud raised by whistleblowers came mostly from very small organisations – with 76% of callers describing the company size as 1-49 employees.

In light of the worrying nature of some of these statistics, the report calls on the Government to put in place legal standards on employers to have whistleblowing arrangements in place, including a requirement to give whistleblowers feedback on the concerns raised, together with a penalty regime allowing fines for breaches of the whistleblowing standards.

Key message

The key message from the report is that a significant number of whistleblowing concerns about the pandemic are being ignored by employers.  Ultimately, this may lead to further serious complaints as well as significant reputational damage and litigation risk.

To avoid these issues, employers should seek to create an open culture in which employee concerns can be raised freely and dealt with fairly.  This starts at Board level and should filter throughout the organisation.  Clear policies and training are needed, but these will be worthless if treated simply as a “tick box exercise”.  Effective responses, investigations and outcomes by the employer are all vital.

We are experts in advising organisations on whistleblowing best practice and how to avoid these risks.  Do get in touch if we can help.

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