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Advice Line training by Protect trainee advisers Burcak and Rhiannon

As recent law graduates kick-starting our legal careers at Protect , the first few weeks has certainly been an eye-opening experience – we have learnt a lot in our first month on the job!

Although we had of course heard of whistleblowing, largely through shocking media news stories, within days of training on the Protect advice line, we quickly came to learn that whistleblowing is a part of everyday life and can affect any one of us in the workplace.  Not every whistleblowing concern is on the Edward-Snowden-scale and makes front page news. What may perhaps seem like a small concern, can actually have a significant and wide-reaching impact on our lives and the lives of others.

This is why whistleblowing’s protection in law is important to ensure a transparent and ethical working environment. Protect’s advice-line is integral to promoting a ‘speak-up’ culture within organisations to mitigate risk early on, and support whistleblowers throughout the challenging and courageous process of raising their concerns.

At Protect, we don’t just recite the law but we empathise with our callers. In our first week, we attended a training session given by Protect’s Senior Legal Consultant and former CEO Cathy James on ‘empathetic call handling.’  At Protect, we offer legal advice as well as practical support and reassurance that callers are taking the right steps. A large part of the Protect training is understanding how to listen, emphasise and fully understand ‘the whole picture’ of a whistleblowing concern which are often very complex.  An adviser then weighs up the options available to the caller, which can only be done by understanding their concerns and tailoring the advice accordingly to individual needs.

The practical effects of this has been evident from the ‘sifting’ stage of our training, which precedes the ‘advice’ stage. This involves discussing the caller’s concerns in detail and asking relevant questions around the law of whistleblowing. We then discuss the nature of the call and the kind of advice that can be given with a senior adviser which ensures that highest quality advice is given to each and every caller. Each year, Protect handles around 3,000 whistleblowing cases, and in its 25-year history has supported more than 40,000 whistleblowers, which is impressive! Advisers also regularly get back in touch with callers to check how they are, how they are progressing with situations and providing further support if necessary.

The weekly advice-line meetings have also been an incredibly useful addition to the training process. These meetings involve the advice-line team getting together to talk over their cases. This ensures that the team provides consistent advice, allows for different perspectives on certain issues which may have been overlooked at the time, and it ultimately allows advisers to spot trends in the type of concerns being raised.  For example, we have seen a spike in calls from the charity sector this year as well as a rise in calls from the education sector.  This shows that the advice-line is more than just providing one-off advice, going beyond the individual to look at the bigger picture of the types of concerns people are raising and how they are being dealt with. This feeds into our policy work which aims to improve the protection of whistleblowers.

Overall, we have learnt A LOT in the short time we have been here and looking forward to progressing with our training to help whistleblowers in need of support.