Protect’s Advice Line is a unique support to whistleblowers across the country, providing confidential legal advice, and practical guidance for free to those in need.
We receive calls from whistleblowers across the entire economy. However, we seem to receive a particularly high number of calls from whistleblowers working in the education, care, health, financial services, government and charitable sectors.
For every whistleblower who calls us (if they give express consent) we record the industry they work in and how they have been treated by their employer when they raised their concern. We detail the response they receive, whether they were thanked and able to continue in their role or whether they experienced negative treatment such as bullying, dismissal or feeling they had no choice but to resign.
We have created a survey of all the whistleblowers who contacted us in the last 2 years – from January 2020 to March 2022.
The results starkly highlight that most whistleblowers in the UK feel they were punished for speaking up.
Whilst the whistleblowing stories that receive most press attention tend to be in the health sector, financial sector or government, of those who contact us it is whistleblowers from the education sector who report as having been treated the worst.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost no whistleblowers in any of these sectors are thanked for their whistleblowing. This suggests that sectors, even when they don’t punish whistleblowers for speaking out, are not creating a positive and encouraging environment for whistleblowers to speak up.
Less than 1% of whistleblowers who contacted our advice line in all sectors were thanked for speaking up and in government and education no whistleblowers at all were thanked for speaking up.
This is both bad for staff morale and for the effective running of organisations. Employers should want to hear about malpractice in their organisations and should want to promote clear communication and staff wellbeing. Creating a whistleblowing process is not enough. They must promote it and encourage their workers to speak up to create a healthy whistleblowing culture.
Of course, ours is a small sample of all whistleblowers in the UK and does not necessarily provide accurate representation of which sectors treat whistleblowers worst. Some sectors that don’t appear here may have better internal whistleblowing systems that mean whistleblowers don’t feel the need to contact external parties. Or equally other sectors may be so restrictive and punitive against whistleblowers that none even feel able, or know how, to contact us for advice.
Nonetheless this data does suggest that whistleblowers desperately need support and that employers in these sectors do need to make serious efforts to ensure they have good internal processes to encourage whistleblowers. It also shows that the government needs to work to set up proper whistleblowing systems and laws to protect them both at the national level and within its own civil service and workplaces.
Parliament’s aim when it introduced whistleblowing protection with the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) was to encourage responsible whistleblowing. We know that whistleblowing is a key tool in detecting and deterring fraud, managing risks, ensuring accountability and nurturing a productive, loyal and psychologically safe workforce.
But when most whistleblowers face victimisation when they do speak up, this is just not working. Employers can put in place processes to prevent this.
We have just published a very detailed and practical manual going through some of the most innovative practices on this.
We have also set out clear proposals for exactly how the government can fix whistleblowing law. Our proposals would help make whistleblowing more effective for workers who should be encouraged to speak up and properly protected when they do, for the good of organisations and for society as a whole.
We are best able to help when whistleblowers contact us early. Our free Advice Line number is 020 3117 2520. We are open Mon, Tue, Thurs: 9:30am – 1pm, 2pm – 5:30pm; Wed, Fri: 9:30am – 1pm. Alternatively you can email us or contact us via a webcontact form. Protect is the UK’s leading whistleblowing charity. If you work in the UK and would like advice on your whistleblowing rights or how to raise a whistleblowing concern, contact us.