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41% Whistleblowers’ Covid concerns – including public safety disclosures – ignored by employers

Research by Protect has found 41% employees with Covid-19 concerns were ignored by their employers and 20% of whistleblowers were dismissed for raising concerns.  As the furlough leave scheme draws to an end, Protect’s report, The best warning system: Whistleblowing during Covid-19 demonstrates the role whistleblowers can play in revealing where employers are fraudulently claiming public money.

Protect Chief Executive Liz Gardiner, said, “There is no excuse for employers to ignore whistleblowers, but during a global pandemic, it is a danger for us all when concerns are not acted on and the consequences could be a matter of life and death.”

Protect, which runs an Advice Line for whistleblowers, and supports more than 3,000 whistleblowers each year, has been inundated with Covid-19 whistleblowing concerns, many of an extremely serious nature. Its report, The best warning system: Whistleblowing during Covid-19 examines over 600 Covid-19 calls to its Advice Line between March and September. The majority of cases were over furlough fraud and risk to public safety, such as a lack of social distancing and PPE in the workplace.

Key report findings:

* 41% of whistleblowers had Covid-19 concerns ignored by employers

* 20% of whistleblowers were dismissed for raising Covid-19 concerns

* Managers were more likely to be dismissed for raising Covid-19 concerns, with 32% of managers compared with 21% of non-managers losing their jobs 

* Furlough fraud came mostly from very small organisations – 76% of callers described the company size as between 1-49 employees

The best warning system: Whistleblowing during Covid-19 features real life anonymised case studies from whistleblowers reporting on furlough fraud and risks to public safety such as the case studies below:

Raj worked as a care assistant for a company of care homes.  Raj raised concerns that an outbreak of Covid-19 within the home had been handled poorly and that a decision taken by the home not to refer a patient to hospital had resulted in their death. Raj also raised concerns about patients being treated outside of the Care Quality Commission’s Regulations on Dignity and Respect.

Raj reported these issues to his manager and the CQC. Rather than investigate his concerns, managers subjected Raj to a period of targeted bullying by managers within the home, Raj was dismissed by his employer on the grounds of poor conduct which were unfounded.

 Terry works in production at a food factory and has been raising concerns about Covid-19 safety to his employers since February. People queueing in corridors is not compliant with social distancing guidelines which he raised with HR – but his concerns were ignored. He was told not to come into work wearing a face mask, but when he did, to protect himself and colleagues, he was suspended. Now staff are allowed to wear face masks, but Terry has been dismissed. He is being supported by his union and appealing the dismissal.

Darren Jones MP, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee said: “Whistleblowing is a vital means for workers to raise concerns and shine a light on wrongdoing. Putting in place effective whistleblowing arrangements should be a key part of good governance, helping to ensure that people are encouraged to speak out and that their concerns are listened to and acted upon.

“During the coronavirus crisis, workers came forward with concerns about their workplace, on issues such as protective equipment or working practices, and it’s important employers play their part in ensuring effective whistleblowing arrangements are in place.”

This report makes the following recommendations:

  • Introduction of a legal standard on employers to have whistleblowing arrangements in place, including a requirement to give whistleblowers feedback on the concerns raised
  • A penalty regime where an organisation can be fined or sanctioned for breaching the whistleblowing standards.
  • New legal standards on all regulators to ensure they deal effectively and promptly with whistleblowing concerns being raised to them – and regulators doing much more to drive up standards of whistleblowing arrangements amongst entities they regulate
  • Legal aid and reform to whistleblowing law is needed to ensure that whistleblowers who are treated badly or dismissed have an effective remedy.

Protect’s Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner added, “We want lessons to be learned from our report which demonstrates real issues around fraud and public safety. Organisations have a duty of care to protect their staff.

“Whistleblowers are doing the right thing speaking up in a pandemic to keep themselves and others safe – employers need to keep their side of the deal and listen and act on the concerns they are hearing.”

Read the report

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