What is whistleblowing?

‘Whistleblowing’ is when a worker provides certain types of information which has come to their attention, usually to the employer or a regulator, to raise a concern about danger or illegality that affects others. The disclosure may be about the alleged wrongful conduct of the employer, a colleague, client, or any third party. Typically, the whistleblower is not directly, personally affected by the danger or illegality, although they may be.

The disclosure must be made in the public interest rather than for personal gain. Complaints can be made to a collection of different people, meaning you are able to make your disclosure to someone you feel comfortable talking to. People should not be victimised for blowing the whistle and will therefore receive whistleblower protection throughout the process. Whistleblowing is an important practice as it ensures companies operate fairly and within the limits of the law.

What counts as whistleblowing?

The following complaints count as whistleblowing:

  • Criminal offences
  • Dangers to an individual’s health and safety
  • Risk or damage to the environment
  • Miscarriage of justice
  • The company breaking the law, including contractual obligations and health and safety regulations
  • You believe that someone is covering up wrongdoing (whilst evidence can help the investigation but is not necessary)


So for example, if someone reported financial abuse of care home residents this would classify as whistleblowing. However, if someone reported personal discrimination their complaint would not count as whistleblowing. A person is under no obligation to investigate the information before reporting it – in fact, this could be detrimental through inadvertently “tipping off’ those involved. Raising a concern in good faith (i.e. based on honest perceptions and without malice) is all that is expected.


Who should the information be reported to?

Employees have a few different options of who to report their concerns to and the nature of the complaint may dictate who they feel most comfortable making the disclosure to. Organisations might have a whistleblowing policy that outlines who they should contact, often containing a list of external whistleblowing hotlines. However, if they do not have a policy or if the person does not feel comfortable contacting the person (e.g. if they were implicated) then they have a number of other options. These include:

  • Their manager
  • Another manager within their organisation
  • Their organisation’s legal and compliance team
  • Their HR department
  • Seeking legal advice from a lawyer
  • An industry body such as a trade union or association
  • An external helpline such as Acas

What’s to be expected next?

Whoever the concerns are reported to should listen to the employee’s worries and ask further questions if necessary. It is important that the employee immediately informs them if they do not wish your name and contact details to be recorded. However, you are within your rights to refuse to any of these activities. You may be required to attend further meetings or be contacted by phone to obtain more information. The process is now out of your hands and the investigator will decide whether to pursue matters further. Whilst you will now be removed from the investigation, you can request to be kept up-to-date with its progress.

Am I Protected?

You are protected by law, when whistleblowing, if you are:

  • An employee or former employee
  • A trainee, e.g. a student nurse
  • An agency worker
  • A member of a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

The Citizens Advice Bureau can offer advice if you do not fall into any of the aforementioned categories. If you are concerned about the level of protection you will receive, you can make the report anonymously. However, this may hinder the investigation as the investigators will not be able to contact you for further information. Additionally, you will not receive updates on the progress of the investigation when reporting anonymously.

Whistleblowing in Action

One of the greatest whistleblowing scandals of our time is Olympus’ fraud discovery. Michael Woodford joined the world renowned camera company Olympus in 1980 and spent the next three decades climbing the ranks to CEO. Two weeks into his new role as CEO, Woodford discovered and blew the whistle on £1 billion of fraud. When he brought his discoveries to the board he was immediately dismissed. He then took to the world news and media to get his story heard. Whilst Woodford suffered mistreatment as the direct consequence of whistleblowing, it was not in vain. Woodford succeeded, he uncovered and publicised £1 billion of fraud, received £20 million settlement and got three former executives charged with fraud cover-up.

Why is Whistleblowing Important?

Whilst whistleblowing can be a daunting thought, it is coupled with numerous benefits. The practice of whistleblowing helps to improve your working conditions, especially regarding health and safety. It also helps to uphold the organisation’s Code of Conduct and protects its reputation. Similarly, reporting protects both clients and stakeholders, which is in the public’s best interest. By the nature of whistleblowing, you are acting in the public’s best interest. Whistleblowing training can help arm you with the knowledge and skills needed to make a proper complaint and ensure your voice is heard.

Whistleblowing is by no means a new phenomenon; however, the whistleblowing culture is rapidly gathering momentum. It involves workers reporting wrongdoing that they believe has or will damage the public. It is beneficial for organisations to nurture a whistleblowing culture in which employees feel at ease disclosing their concerns. Employees that trust they will not suffer persecution after blowing the whistle are more likely to come to your organisation directly with their concerns. This gives you the chance to address the misconduct internally before considering the involvement of external parties. Enforcing whistleblowing education is a fundamental way of demonstrating whistleblowing acceptance within your organisation. Training is a pivotal tool and should be properly implemented at every level of your organisation.

What is Whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing is the reporting of misconduct by workers in order to protect the public. This misconduct has normally, but not always, been seen at work. Whistleblowers can be employees, prior employees, trainees, agency workers and members of Limited Liability Partnerships. To constitute whistleblowing, the complaint must affect the public rather than be a personal grievance. Whistleblowing complaints can be categorised as follows:

  • Criminal offence
  • Risk to an individual’s health and safety
  • Real or potential environmental damage
  • Miscarriage of justice
  • Breaking the law, including contractual obligations and health and safety regulations

One of the main decisions to make in whistleblowing is who you are going to report your concern to. You could make your report internally to your manager, another manager, human resources or your organisation’s legal and compliance team. Externally, you could choose a lawyer, an external body like a trade union or a whistleblowing hotline.

Why is Whistleblowing Education Important?

Education is a powerful means of generating awareness. Introducing mandatory whistleblowing training for your staff members helps to promote a whistleblowing culture in your organisation. It is important to promote whistleblowing in your organisation because it facilitates early detection of fraud and misconduct. Workers are typically the first people to identify misconduct within organisations. Therefore, encouraging them to come to you immediately allows you to swiftly put an end to the wrongdoing and mitigate any risks and repercussions. An open appreciation and promotion of whistleblowing within your organisation means that staff are more likely to report whistleblowing internally, rather than turning to external bodies. This is beneficial as it allows you to determine whether the issue can be managed internally or whether it requires escalating to the appropriate authorities. Self-reporting is looked upon favourably and often results in financial benefits and more lenient punishments. Also, if legal action is not required the misconduct can be handled entirely within your organisation, preventing a public scandal. Even if reporting is required, you will not be caught off guard by the authorities and the press, allowing you to properly prepare for the attention.

Who Should Undergo Training and How Often?

Every staff member should be trained in whistleblowing. Whistleblowers range from trainees and agency workers to CEOs, as demonstrated by the Olympus CEO who blew the whistle on £1 billion of fraud. In order for a whistleblowing culture to evolve throughout an organisation, it must start at the top and cascade down. Existing workers should undergo regular whistleblowing training and have access to your organisation’s whistleblowing policy. Meanwhile, newcomers to the organisation should receive whistleblower training as part of their induction.

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Whistleblowing is where workers report wrongdoing at work, in order to protect the public. Whilst blowing the whistle can be daunting, whistleblowers have received increased protection in order to encourage a whistleblowing culture. It is a beneficial practice as it allows the detection of fraud and misconduct within schools which benefits all. Whistleblowers have the choice of making their complaint internally or externally. It is beneficial for your school if workers come to you directly and make an internal report. This allows you to avoid escalating matters if possible and dodge the unnecessary attention of a public scandal. Promoting a whistleblowing culture within your school will help encourage staff to talk to you directly.
What Complaints Count as Whistleblowing?
Not all complaints are classed as whistleblowing. In order to be classified as a whistleblowing complaint, it must be in the public interest. Complaints that are for personal interest are termed personal grievances. The following complaints count as whistleblowing:

  • Criminal offences
  • Threats to an individual’s health and safety
  • Potential or actual damage to the environment
  • Miscarriage of justice
  • Breaking the law, including contractual obligations as well as health and safety regulations
  • The belief that someone is covering up wrongdoing that falls into one of the aforementioned categories

If you are unsure about whether your complaint is classed as whistleblowing or are confused about the process, there are many ways to address your uncertainties. Your school’s whistleblowing policy should shed light on the procedure. Alternatively, the whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work (PCaW) can be contacted with any queries.

Who Can I Contact With My Concerns?
Once you have decided to blow the whistle, it is important to choose someone who you trust to make your disclosure to. Many employees choose to talk to a trusted co-worker or manager. Alternatively, you can choose to whistleblow to an external body, such as Ofsted or the Health and Safety Executive. It is worth checking your school’s whistleblowing policy before deciding who to contact externally as it might outline some specific options for you. People decide to take their concerns out of their school for a variety of reasons. Some have already raised it internally and believe it has not been appropriately addressed. Others raise their concern externally from the start if it is particularly serious or they don’t feel comfortable raising it internally.
School Whistleblowing Requirements
Maintained schools (i.e. schools that are maintained by the local authority) should have a whistleblowing procedure in place. It is the responsibility of the governing bodies to create and maintain this policy. It should outline the school’s procedure for dealing with whistleblowing complaints. One member of staff and one governor should be appointed for other staff members to contact with their concerns. There must be a record of the school’s whistleblowing arrangements as well as who can be contacted (both in and out of the school) to report concerns to.
Am I Protected If I Whistleblow?
Under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, whistleblowers are protected against mistreatment from employers after they blow the whistle. You have the right to take matters to an employment tribunal if you feel you have suffered due to blowing the whistle. In order to receive whistleblower protection you must be either an employee, former employee, trainee, agency worker or a member of a Limited Liability Partnership. Additionally, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Have reasonable beliefs of malpractice
  • Be making the disclosure in the public interest
  • Have brought the matter to the school’s attention

Why is Whistleblowing Important in Schools?
Whistleblowing is incredibly important in schools because it protects pupils, staff and governors alike. It allows early detection of misconduct and fraud which facilitates quick rectification. Similarly, whistleblowing prevents harm to employees and pupils. Finally, acting in the public’s best interest is an ethical thing to do, so should be encouraged. In order to promote a whistleblowing culture, staff members must know what protection is available for them when blowing the whistle, what concerns are classified as whistleblowing and their different options for reporting a concern. Regular whistleblowing training is fundamental in raising awareness and increasing knowledge of whistleblowing and its importance.

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Whistleblowing is where staff report concerns about wrongdoing, most commonly seen at work. It is seen across all industry sectors and is gathering momentum as an increased emphasis on transparency sweeps through society. The following types of concerns can be classified as whistleblowing:

  • Unsafe patient care
  • Poor clinical practice
  • Failure to properly safeguard patients
  • Inadequate administration of medicines
  • Untrained staff
  • Unsafe working conditions
  • Lack of policies
  • Bullying at work
  • Unwell or stressed staff who are not seeking help

These complaints differ from personal grievances as they have a public rather than private interest. Sometimes it can be difficult to know if a complaint classifies as whistleblowing or not. The NHS Whistleblowing Helpline can help to answer this type of question, for NHS and social care workers. Similarly, the charity Public Concern at Work can provide free and confidential legal advice. Whistleblowers can be employees, former employees, trainees, agency workers or members of an organisation.

Why is Whistleblowing Important in the Health and Social Care Sectors?
Those working in the health and social care sectors have a duty to put patients and the people they are working for first, as outlined in their professional code of conduct. Therefore, if an action is likely to cause harm to these people, there is a duty to report it. Essentially, whistleblowing is an early warning system that allows malpractice to be addressed before it results in serious harm. The nature of the health and social care sectors means that mistakes that would be considered minor in other sectors could have serious consequences for those involved. Patients are often at the receiving end of malpractice and require our protection accordingly.
The Bristol Royal Infirmary scandal highlights the atrocious damage that can be done by overlooking malpractice in the health and social care sectors. Around 35 babies tragically died from 1990 to 1995 at the hands of Bristol Royal Infirmary’s cardiac surgeons, whilst numerous more suffered irreversible brain damage. The unit continued to carry out high-risk operations at the expense of children’s safety, and in far too many cases their lives, in order to make the unit a centre of excellence. The practice continued until Steve Bolsin, a consultant cardiac anaesthetist, blew the whistle on the astoundingly high mortality rate in the unit. When Bolsin approached management with the shocking mortality figures he had compiled, he was turned away and ignored. The CEO of the trust nearly fired him for his persistence with the matter. Bristol has been described as having a “club culture” where a few people had far too much power, which essentially bred ignorance to these malpractices. Had Steve Bolsin not courageously stepped forward to blow the whistle, countless more young lives could have been lost.
The Whistleblowing Process
Many organisations have a whistleblowing policy which should guide you through the process, this can be accessed through your human resources department or trade union. Whilst they are not a legal requirement, it is beneficial for organisations to have a whistleblowing policy in place.
When reporting a complaint, it is widely recommended that you draw attention to your concern locally, for example by talking to your line manager or a more senior manager in your organisation. However, if you have tried doing so and not got anywhere or you would prefer to speak to someone removed from the situation, you have a number of other options, including NHS England and the General Medical Council (GMC).
The best way to make a whistleblowing complaint is confidentially. This means that the people you report your complaint to will know your identity, but they will try to conceal it for as long as possible. Your identity will not be revealed without your consent, unless the body is legally obliged to divulge it. Alternatively, reports can be made anonymously, meaning no one knows your identity. However, this may hinder or even halt the investigation as investigators will not be able to contact you for further information. Additionally, you will not be able to receive any updates on the progress of the investigation if you remain anonymous. Also, it is worth considering that making your report anonymously does not mean that your colleagues will not suspect you.
In order to make a valid whistleblowing complaint you must fulfil the following criteria: having a genuine concern in the public interest and being honest to the best of your knowledge. Whilst you need not have hard evidence to support your concerns, any evidence that you do have is useful. However, you must not start investigating the concerns for yourself. This risks tipping off the individual involved.
Whistleblowing in Primary Care
Primary care includes frontline services like GP surgeries, dentists, opticians and pharmacies. Most primary care organisations are relatively small. This can pose difficulties when it comes to whistleblowing as it raises employees’ worries of being identified as the whistleblower. Staff in the primary care sector can choose to report their concerns to their appointed Freedom to Speak Up guardian or directly to NHS England. Since April 2016, NHS England has been classed as a prescribed person under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. The act sought to protect whistleblowers.
Whistleblower Protection
You are legally protected from harassment and bullying following whistleblowing and your employer should take disciplinary action against anyone who victimises you as a result. Additionally, if you are victimised after blowing the whistle you have the rights to bring the matter to an employment tribunal. To receive full whistleblower protection you must be sure to follow whistleblowing protocol within your organisation – for instance, first filling in a critical incident form. Much of this process will be set out within the whistleblowing policy.
Due to limitations in the existing legal protection, junior doctors have been subjected to mistreatment after blowing the whistle. However, the British Medical Association (BMA) has now established a legally binding agreement with Health Education England (HEE) in order to protect junior doctors when blowing the whistle. This means that if junior doctors receive detrimental treatment by HEE as a result of whistleblowing then they now have legal protection.
Encouraging Whistleblowing in Health and Social Care Settings
Sir Robert Francis’ report on the findings of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust’s failings recommended whistleblowing training for staff members of all NHS organisations. The Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust came under scrutiny as multiple staff members reported poor care across the trust. Whilst staff eventually stepped forward to blow the whistle, many others avoiding doing so out of fear of persecution. It is estimated that malpractice led to the deaths of between 400 and 1100 patients from 2005 to 2009. This enquiry paved the way for a novel push on whistleblowing in health and social care. The NHS has developed a whistleblowing film to educate staff members. It can be used for induction, team development, board meetings, staff group meetings, appraisals and revalidation. Another respected way of educating people on whistleblowing is through training courses – eLearning, for example. Training is multifunctional in generating awareness of, promoting and educating staff on whistleblowing.

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Whistleblowing is where someone in an organisation passes on information about misconduct within the organisation that they believe has or will damage the public. Whistleblowing occurs in all types of organisations and across all sectors; childcare is no exception. Childcare services include childminders and nurseries. Children are especially vulnerable to harm, so we must endeavour to properly safeguard them. As whistleblowing protects children from misconduct, it can be considered a form of child protection. If you believe that a child is at an immediate risk of harm, you must refer your concern urgently to the local authorities or the police.
What Type of Things Require Whistleblowing in Childcare?
Whistleblowing complaints fall into the following categories:

  • Criminal offences
  • Threats to an individual’s health and safety
  • Real or potential damage to the environment
  • Miscarriage of justice
  • Breaking the law, including contractual obligations and health and safety regulations
  • The belief that someone is covering up wrongdoing that falls into one of the previously listed categories

These complaints differ from personal grievances as they are centred on a public rather than a personal interest. There are many whistleblowing hotlines – including one run by the NSPCC (which is dedicated to children) – that can answer your whistleblowing questions. This may include deciding whether a complaint is classified as whistleblowing or not.
To explore whistleblowing in action, we will look at an example of its implementation in a childcare setting. Several staff at a nursery in South Lanarkshire raised concerns about the conduct of one worker in 2014. He was later found to be a child abuser. If the nursery’s managers had listened to the whistleblowers, his crimes may have come to light earlier. In other cases, children have been saved from abuse by the actions of brave whistleblowers in their childcare setting.
This highlights the importance of acting as an advocate for children’s rights and whistleblowing when they are at risk of harm.

The Whistleblowing Procedure
It is generally best to whistleblow internally, i.e. within your organisation. This allows the organisation to address your concerns quickly before possibly involving external bodies. However, it is appropriate to escalate your concerns externally if:

  • Your organisation does not have a whistleblowing policy
  • You are afraid that your concern will not be properly dealt with or will be covered up
  • You have already raised your concern internally and it has not been acted on
  • You are worried about being treated unfairly after blowing the whistle

Childcare service providers can report their concerns to Ofsted, the NSPCC and general whistleblowing hotlines like ACAS. These bodies are obliged to investigate your concerns and you should not be ignored or dismissed. The NSPCC has been a prescribed whistleblowing body for child welfare since 2014.
Additionally, some whistleblowers who fear victimisation after blowing the whistle choose to make their report anonymously. Reporting anonymously would mean that no one, not even the person you are reporting your concern to, knows your identity. However, reporting anonymously does not mean that co-workers will not speculate about your involvement. Furthermore, remaining anonymous might slow down or even stop the process as investigators cannot contact you for further information. Alternatively, if your wish your identity to be restricted but not to be anonymous, you can ask for your complaint to be handled confidentially. In this instance, your identity will be recorded but not disclosed unless strictly necessary. This allows you to be contacted for further information and aids the investigative process.
Why is Whistleblowing Important in Childcare?
Children are vulnerable to mistreatment and exploitation as they cannot speak out about events in the way that adults can. For this reason, it is the responsibility of all who work with or around children to protect their welfare. Whistleblowing is a vital tool in safeguarding children. Whistleblowing can also protect your organisation by allowing malpractice to be addressed and rectified before scandals are brandished on newspaper headlines. A good reputation is an invaluable asset to an organisation and whistleblowing helps to protect this. Likewise, whistleblowing can protect staff by helping to ensure that working conditions comply with requirement, e.g. health and safety regulations. It is clear that whistleblowing can benefit not only the children in childcare settings, but also the staff and the organisation as a whole. In order to encourage whistleblowing, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 was passed to prevent detrimental treatment of workers by their employers after blowing the whistle. To learn more about whistleblowing and how to blow the whistle you should undertake regular whistleblowing training.

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Whistleblowing is the reporting of wrongdoing by workers. Whistleblowing can either be internal or external. Internal whistleblowing is where workers report concerns to your business directly. This can benefit the subsequent investigation and management of misconduct. External whistleblowing, on the other hand, involves workers reporting their concerns to an external body. Promoting whistleblowing within your business can help encourage staff members to speak to you directly and avoid the possibility of being contacted by external bodies regarding wrongdoing within your business.
What is Whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing is where workers report misconduct, most often seen at work, in order to protect the public. Whistleblowers can be employees, former employees, trainees, agency workers or members of Limited Liability Partnerships. The misconduct must affect, or have the potential to affect, the public, rather than being a personal grievance. Whistleblowing complaints typically fall into one of the following categories:

  • Criminal offence
  • Threat to an individual’s health and safety
  • Real or potential damage to the environment
  • Miscarriage of justice
  • Breaking the law, which includes contractual obligations and health and safety regulations

When deciding to blow the whistle, you must consider who you feel comfortable disclosing your concerns to. Some people decide to report them to their manager directly, whilst others prefer the detached nature of an external body (such as a lawyer, trade union or whistleblowing hotline). Other internal options include legal and compliance teams, human resources departments and other managers within the business.

How Can Whistleblowing Benefit Your Business?
Many employers are intimidated by the prospect of their workers approaching them with complaints, assuming it will involve hassle as well as costing unnecessary time and attention. However, contrary to this belief, nurturing a whistleblowing culture can benefit your business. Workers are typically the first people to identify fraud and misconduct within businesses. Therefore, encouraging them to whistleblow facilitates early detection of fraud within your business. Utilising the eyes and ears of your business allows you to swiftly put a stop to the wrongdoing and mitigate any risks and repercussions.
Additionally, creating an open and honest workplace means that whistleblowers are likely to come to you directly instead of approaching external whistleblowing services. Internal whistleblowing facilitates self-reporting, which can see significant financial benefits. Also, when legal action is not required the misconduct can be handled entirely within your business, without being plastered across headlines in a public scandal. Crucially, if you are required to disclose the incident to the authorities, anticipating the public attention allows you to prepare for it.
How to Implement a Whistleblowing Culture
In order to develop a whistleblowing culture, it is essential that an acceptance and promotion of whistleblowing is observed at every level of the organisation, including management. Creating a whistleblowing policy is a good place to start. A whistleblowing policy is a document compiled by an organisation which outlines their stance on whistleblowing and offers information to workers on the whistleblowing procedure. The policy should contain an explanation of whistleblowing with its application to your organisation, a description of the drawbacks of remaining anonymous, and a rough timescale for investigating complaints, for example. Though whistleblowing policies are not a legal obligation, they can be incredibly valuable in encouraging and directing whistleblowing. It is important to promote your whistleblowing policy, as a lack of awareness renders your policy redundant. Whistleblowing awareness can be generated through meetings, posters, promotion of policy, staff training and anything else that gets people talking. Whistleblowing training is a vital resource that both raises awareness of and educates your staff on whistleblowing. Regular training allows staff to keep their knowledge up to date and familiarise themselves with the whistleblowing process, thus promoting whistleblowing in your business.

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Citizens Advice (previously known as the Citizens Advice Bureau) aims to provide advice to people facing problems and to guide policymakers. Advice is free, independent, confidential and impartial, meaning the service is very approachable. Advice is offered on subjects ranging from benefits and debt to immigration and whistleblowing. They can assist with legal and employment advice, making them a suitable external body to approach with whistleblowing concerns. Citizens Advice is a collection of independent charities across England and Wales. It is a well-established service which has been used by 4 out of 10 of us at some point in our lives.

When Was It Established?

The first 200 Citizens Advice Bureaux opened in 1939 alongside the declaration of war. It was established to meet the needs of civilians during the war and bureaux were predominantly focused in large cities and industrial areas. They were initially funded by the government, but funding was significantly cut throughout the war. By 1942 there were a peak number of 1,074 bureaux in operation. The Citizens Advice service has evolved and expanded, offering advice on any issues that people have.

What Role Does Citizens Advice Play in Whistleblowing?

Citizens Advice offers legal advice on a range of topics and can help you take legal action, if required. They focus on a few key areas of whistleblowing, but can be approached with a range of issues. Published advice can be found on: when employers stop giving agency workers work, unfair dismissal and employment tribunals, and reporting concerns in the NHS. Citizens Advice are a respectable port of call for any whistleblowing questions. They can also be approached if you believe you have suffered mistreatment after blowing the whistle.

Whistleblowing involves the reporting of wrongdoing that has, or could, negatively impact the public. Whistleblowers are workers and the misconduct is typically witnessed at work. A whistleblowing policy outlines an organisation’s stance on whistleblowing and offers instruction to workers who are considering blowing the whistle. The law does not demand that employers have a whistleblowing policy, but it is good practice to have one in place. Cultivating an open, honest and transparent working environment helps to protect both your organisation and your customers. It is widely appreciated that a large proportion of workers are scared to blow the whistle. Concerns are predominantly around the fear of persecution from team members and nothing being done to address their worries. Education and demonstration that whistleblowers will be treated with the respect they deserve allows you to combat these anxieties.

What is Whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing is where workers pass on information about wrongdoing, normally discovered at work. In order to count as whistleblowing two criteria must be fulfilled. Firstly, the disclosure must be in the public interest, and secondly, it must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Criminal offence
  • Failure to comply with legal obligations
  • Miscarriage of justice
  • Risks to someone’s health and safety
  • Real or potential damage to the environment
  • Belief that someone is covering up wrongdoing

What Should a Whistleblowing Policy Contain?

Whistleblowing policies will differ between organisations, largely dictated by the organisation’s size and nature. For example, large businesses may train managers so that employees can contact their managers directly with any concerns. However, it is unlikely that smaller businesses will have adequate resources to facilitate this system. Here is a basic outline explaining what a good whistleblowing policy should cover:

  • An explanation of whistleblowing, how it relates to your organisation and the benefits of blowing the whistle.
  • An outline of your whistleblowing procedure.
  • Expressed commitment to train all workers in whistleblowing.
  • Commitment to treat all disclosures fairly and maintain confidentiality when requested to do so.
  • A statement clarifying that “gagging clauses” do not prevent whistleblowing.
  • A realistic prediction of the information a whistleblower can expect to receive and a timescale for processing their complaint.
  • A description of the limitations of remaining anonymous, i.e. lack of progress updates and not being contacted for further information.
  • Emphasis on the fact that whistleblower victimisation will not be tolerated.
  • Insistence that whistleblowers need not supply evidence in order for their concern to be investigated.
  • Signposting towards information and advice for those considering whistleblowing.
  • Information specifying the prescribed person for whistleblowing complaints.

Additionally, employees often confuse personal grievances with complaints that are in the public interest. Your whistleblowing policy should explain the differences between whistleblowing and personal grievances. Organisations that recognise a trade union sometimes produce a whistleblowing policy in consultation with them.

How Can a Whistleblowing Policy be Made Available?

Having a readily accessible whistleblowing policy encourages workers to escalate their concerns. However, even a good whistleblowing policy is redundant if there is no awareness generated around it. Written policies are insufficient and simply delivering a one-off push on publicising the policy is not enough. Staff should regularly be reminded of its importance and the policy should be flagged to any newcomers. Thorough and regular staff training assists in generating awareness, understanding and acceptance of a whistleblowing culture.

The Importance of a Whistleblowing Culture

Within your organisation, it is highly likely that workers will be the first to witness any wrongdoing. Generating a whistleblowing culture means that these concerns will be brought to your attention and risks can be mitigated accordingly. As expressed above, training all workers in whistleblowing is good practice and protects your organisation against fraud and misconduct. Education is the key in generating awareness and acceptance of a whistleblowing culture. Furthermore, good whistleblowing policies and procedures encourage workers to make their disclosure to your organisation directly, rather than to an external party. This allows you to address and rectify issues internally and choose whether to escalate the matter.

Whistleblowing is where a worker reports misconduct in order to protect the public. The complaint must be based on your honest perceptions, made without malice and not personal. Essentially, as soon as you have offloaded your concerns and passed on all of the relevant information, the investigation is out of your hands. Whilst this means you have no say over the proceedings, you may request updates on developments. The biggest questions when debating whether to blow the whistle are often: does my concern constitute as whistleblowing and who should I talk to?

Is My Complaint Whistleblowing?

In essence, whistleblowing reports comprise of complaints from workers about misconduct that could harm the public. These can fall into a variety of different categories:

  • Criminal offences
  • Practices that endanger an individual’s health and safety
  • Risk or actual damage to the environment
  • Breaking the law (this includes contractual obligations and health and safety regulations)
  • Miscarriage of justice
  • The belief that someone is covering up wrongdoing

It is important to stress that evidence is not required when documenting a complaint. In fact, gathering evidence can do more harm than good if the individuals involved get wind of your suspicion. Nor is it your responsibility to investigate matters, so simply reporting any concerns is the best course of action.

Who Should I Discuss My Concerns With?

Whilst many organisations have a whistleblowing policy, you are still at liberty to choose someone other than the nominated individual or hotline to report your concerns to. Frequently, workers choose to confide in their managers, but when they are implicated in the wrongdoing, this becomes more troublesome. You are permitted to report concerns to other managers within your organisation as well as your organisation’s legal and compliance team or human resources department. For external advice you can contact lawyers, industry bodies (e.g. trade unions) or external whistleblowing helplines like Acas.

Can I Remain Anonymous?

Yes, however this may hinder the investigation. Some people choose to make their reports anonymously for fear of subsequent victimisation from their team. However, even when their name is not disclosed, their identity is often speculated about amongst colleagues. Maintaining anonymity throughout the process means that you cannot be contacted for further information and that you will not receive updates on the process. Furthermore, since the introduction of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, whistleblowers have received legal protection against mistreatment from employers. The alternative to remaining anonymous is making a confidential disclosure. In this situation, your name will not be released until much later in the process when it is strictly necessary to do so.

What Can I Expect Next?

Once you have made the complaint and given all of the relevant information, your role in the report is complete. After your initial meeting you may be contacted to attend another meeting, or receive a phone call, and pushed for further information. After this, the investigation is out of your hands. You can request to be updated on its progress, but you are relieved of the responsibility of following up your concerns.

Why Should I Whistleblow?

Many people fret about the risks of whistleblowing, predominantly mistreatment within the organisation afterwards. However, the benefits of blowing the whistle largely outweigh the risks. Whistleblowing is an ethical act as it is, or should, be performed in the public’s best interest. It is fundamental in protecting an organisation’s customers. Additionally, creating an open and fair culture protects your organisation against fraud and misconduct and the accompanying repercussions. In order to nurture a culture of whistleblowing it is important to raise awareness amongst employees, publish a whistleblowing policy and implement regular whistleblowing training.

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As long as they fall into a prescribed category then yes, whistleblowers can remain anonymous. Whistleblowing is where workers report misconduct within an organisation which they believe has the potential to endanger the public. This may be criminal activities, environmental damage or health and safety threats, for instance. Concerns can be reported to a variety of people, including managers, human resources departments, trade unions and external whistleblowing hotlines. Remaining anonymous means that you do not reveal your identity throughout the whistleblowing process, not even to the person you are reporting your concerns to. Some whistleblowers fear victimisation within their organisation after blowing the whistle and remain anonymous in order to minimise this possibility.
What are my Anonymity Options?
As previously mentioned, being an anonymous whistleblower means that no one will know your identity, even the person you are documenting your complaint with. It is important to stress that remaining anonymous does not mean that people won’t suspect you as the source of the information. You still risk raising the suspicions of your work colleagues. An alternative to remaining anonymous is upholding a confidential report. This means that the person you are talking to will know your identity, but it does not mean that it will be publicised unnecessarily. In fact, your identity will be concealed for as long as possible, emerging only late in the investigation or as required in court. Some confidential whistleblowers will not have their identity revealed at all. Some whistleblowers decide to explore the organisation’s confidentiality policy before deciding whether to remain anonymous or not.

Why Might I Want to Remain Anonymous?
Some workers are afraid of suffering negative repercussions after being named as a whistleblower. Concerns are often based on the fear of victimisation from their team or unfair dismissal by their employer. This is largely fuelled by the mindset of a minority that whistleblowers are “snitches”. However, since the introduction of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, workers have received heightened rights over mistreatment following whistleblowing. You can now take issues to an employment tribunal in order to restore justice.
What are the Drawbacks of Remaining Anonymous?
The primary disadvantage of being anonymous through the whistleblowing process is that you cannot be contacted for further information. Throughout the investigative process it may be necessary to contact you, often by organising another meeting or phone call, to harvest crucial information. Remaining anonymous makes this option impossible and may impede or even halt the investigation. Maintaining confidentiality, on the other hand, allows investigators to contact you for more detailed information as the investigation proceeds, since they possess your contact details. Additionally, you will not be contacted with updates on the investigation’s progress if you make your report anonymously. This means that you will be completely removed from the complaint process.
Why is it Important to Report my Concerns?
A large amount of fraud and misconduct can occur within an organisation if workers are prepared to turn a blind eye. Whistleblowing exposes organisations to justice and protects individuals by doing so. Not only does whistleblowing protect an organisation’s customers and its employees, but it also protects the organisation itself. Nurturing a whistleblowing culture allows honesty and transparency to precede and enables employees to focus on the important matters. Avoiding fraud and misconduct in the workplace is essential in avoiding reputational damage, fines and legal prosecution. Whistleblowing allows early detection and rectification of any wrongdoing. Whether we remain anonymous, or simply ask for our confidentiality to be upheld, it is vitally important that we are prepared to blow the whistle on any wrongdoing that we encounter.

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