Are anxious whistleblowers blowing into the wind?

Recent research by the whistleblowing charity Protect found that UK employers disregarded nearly half of all their employees’ coronavirus-related concerns. Not only that, but a fifth of whistleblowing employees lost their jobs as a result of raising issues related to the pandemic.

According to the Protect report, 41% of all whistleblowers raising such concerns were ignored by their employers – rising to 43% where the worry was over a risk to public safety. In addition, managers were found to be more readily dismissed than non-managers.

The charity declared itself “inundated” with COVID-related calls on the issues of safety and possible furlough fraud, the latter featuring in no less than 62% of calls to their advice line. And many of the issues were of an “extremely serious nature”.

Blowing the whistle’ without fear of losing your job has arguably never been more important and the way in which employers deal with those concerns is crucial. This is such a prevalent issue at the moment, after all, it was Dr Li Wenliang in Wuhan who selflessly tried to alert the world to the virus outbreak and was later reprimanded for his “false comments”.

So, what is whistleblowing and are whistleblowers protected under the law? To qualify legally as a whistleblower an employee or worker must make a ‘qualifying disclosure’ relating to one of six types of ‘relevant failure’, and the disclosure must be in the public interest. This information could be about a range of issues, such as a
criminal offence, breach of legal obligation or a danger to health and safety – or the deliberate concealment of any of these. In these circumstances, whistleblowing is seen as a ‘protected disclosure’, which prevents the discloser from losing their job or being subjected to a detriment because of making their disclosure.

Workplace whistleblowing, now more than ever, is vital for the health of any workplace culture. Employer and employee alike need a climate in which the employees feel they can speak out if they have a worry, and the employers will actively address wrongdoing should it be exposed. Businesses must therefore have robust policies and procedures in place to ensure that their employees feel completely secure in raising serious concerns. An extra benefit to the business is that it might prevent damaging future claims of unfair dismissal.

If you’re an employer seeking advice on how to handle whistleblowing in your business, or if you’re an employee worried your concerns aren’t being addressed, don’t hesitate to get in touch.