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With World Whistleblowers Day fast approaching (Tuesday, 23 June), the Business Support team at Protect has been reflecting on the work of employers who are commendably continuing to strive to achieve a strong and positive speak-up culture, and how those with best practice policies could use this national focus day to signpost employees to their arrangements.

Originally created by a group of NGOs working as part of the South East Europe Coalition on Whistleblower Protection in 2019, World Whistleblowers Day was created to raise global public awareness in combating corruption.

The day is about the important role of whistleblowers in combating corruption and maintaining national security.

In these times of flux, when expectations and duties of organisations towards all their stakeholders have been constantly shifting, it is more important than ever for employers to demonstrate support for anyone who would raise a concern about wrongdoing or malpractice within their workplace.

New and very different practices and ways of working may lead to problems which employers cannot afford to miss.

Mass remote working could produce opportunities for data breaches, new reporting methods may lead to mis-reporting of finances, and new working environments may create health and safety hazards or safeguarding issues.

We have already seen so many examples of whistleblowers raising life and death issues from a medical point of view – the Wuhan doctor who raised the alarm about the virus, and health and care workers coming forward about PPE shortages.

The Protect Advice Line has been busier than ever, with 40% of our calls being Covid-19 related. Calls to us are usually from individuals who do not know where to turn, or who don’t feel confident following the procedure set out by their workplace. This could be evidence of mistrust, but could also be a sign that organisations are just not communicating their guidelines and attitude towards whistleblowing as well as they could be.

The value of speaking up to stop harm has never been clearer, and it could benefit businesses greatly to demonstrate that their support for staff by talking about World Whistleblowers Day.

Employers regularly ask us how they can talk to employees about whistleblowing without creating alarm, or suggesting problems which may not exist. World Whistleblowers Day is a great opportunity to create a positive conversation around the arrangements they have in place, and why they are so important.

Here are some top tips from our Business Support team on how to use World Whistleblowers Day to increase levels of staff engagement on the subject of speaking up:

  • Circulate your policy with a word from your chief executive. Don’t have a policy yet? Contact us and we’ll help you write one
  • Appoint a whistleblowing champion who will flag fly for your arrangements and monitor the effectiveness of your whistleblowing arrangements. Remember to communicate their details in your staff newsletter/ on your intranet
  • Test employee confidence on whistleblowing by creating a survey, listening exercises or hosting focus groups. Our team can help you with these things if you wanted to explore options that are right for you
  • Train your staff – especially department heads and line managers who may be the first point of call for all kinds of queries and concerns
  • Create ‘FAQs’ and ‘How to’ guides for staff and people managers which bring your policy to life and clearly show who the best person to contact would be

Please tell us if and how you recognise World Whistleblowers Day so that we might build case studies of employers who are leading the way with making sure that malpractice and wrongdoing is avoided, or resolved quickly, and that whistleblowers are encouraged and protected.

By Stella Sutcliffe, Business Support Manager at Protect


Protect’s pilot examining whistleblowing culture in the Third Sector has found key weak spots it believes are symptomatic across many of the 168,000 charities in England and Wales.

Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner said, “The room for improvement in the Third Sector is well documented following the Oxfam and Save the Children scandals. But in recent weeks we have once again been reminded how vital the work of charities is – and how vital speaking up about wrongdoing is to keep us all safe.

She added, “We know charities are very well aware of safeguarding, but we wanted to assess their whistleblowing culture.”

A cohort of 20 mid to large sized charities took part in the pilot between October and January this year to test their whistleblowing culture. Self-assessing using Protect’s Whistleblowing Benchmark, the charities scored themselves across governance, staff engagement and effective operations.

The results, documented in Time to Transform: Insights from Protect’s Third Sector pilot found:

  • Despite over 80% of charities claiming to have a zero tolerance approach to whistleblower victimisation –  none monitored the risk of victimisation through any aftercare process to monitor wellbeing of staff who had raised concerns
  • Only 52% of charities differentiated between whistleblowing and grievances – making it much harder for staff to know where to go with concerns and the impact on the concern being properly dealt with
  • 86% of charities failed to offer whistleblowing training to staff receiving and acting on whistleblowing concerns

“Our findings on attitudes to keeping whistleblowers’ names confidential and on victimisation are revealing.  If whistleblowers are not given assurances about confidentiality, and if no action is taken when victimisation occurs, others will not be encouraged to speak up” said Protect’s Liz Gardiner.

Stephanie Draper, CEO at international development body, BOND, said, “Whistleblowing is an essential component of safeguarding, so it’s encouraging to see organisations taking action to understand how effective their whistleblowing systems are. Many organisations have, or are in the process of appointing whistleblowing champions and teams to ensure the right arrangements are in place for staff to speak up. This will help make staff feel safe and confident that any complaints or concerns raised will be dealt with appropriately and they will not be victimised.

She added, “Getting whistleblowing right starts with having good governance and policies, but it has to go further than that and this means providing training so staff know their responsibilities and by creating a culture where speaking up is championed.”

Time to Transform was shared with ACEVO, who issued a report ‘In Plain Sight’ last year which highlighted bullying in the third sector, and who are calling on the Charity Commission to do more to investigate bullying.

ACEVO Head of Policy, Kristiana Wrixon, said, “I welcome any work that is undertaken to strengthen whistleblowing processes in charities. The findings of the pilot are interesting, however the report looks at a small group of the largest charities by income, representing a tiny percentage of the sector, so generalisations cannot be made from this information alone. I hope that this report leads to further work that will support charities of all sizes that want to strengthen their whistleblowing practice.”

Protect hope to maximise the pilot findings and work with participants to spread the word about their positive experience and benefits of the Benchmark process, but want a wider scale pilot to help raise awareness amongst the 168,000 charities in England and Wales. Protect is also hoping to work more with smaller charities helping them to adopt good whistleblowing processes.

Read the report Time to Transform

#TimeToTransform
#100charities


Survey findings of 150 health care staff by frontline lobbying group for doctors, The Doctors’ Association has highlighted the shocking treatment of NHS doctors who dared to blow the whistle on inadequate PPE supplies, which featured on BBC Newsnight this week.

The survey respondents were made up of 25% of nurses and just under 25% foundation doctors, 10% were middle grade and just under 10% were consultants. A smaller number of responses were from midwives, physiotherapist paramedics, radiographers and speech and language therapists as well as porters and security staff.

Doctors’ Association UK Law and Policy Lead, Dr Jenny Vaughan, told BBC Newsnight, “These are people who had tried the right channels. They hadn’t just gone and tried to put things on social media because they were trying to be negative. These were people genuinely raising concerns who went to the people who should have listened and felt that they either couldn’t raise a concern or weren’t listened to. So they had to find another outlet because people are putting their lives on the line.”

Just under 50% of respondents have been told not to raise concerns or speak to the press regarding COVID-19 all PPE by trust management and senior colleagues. The survey found 75% of responses had concerns about not having access to PPE as outlined in PHE guidance for the setting they working, whilst 55% reported that they had not been bullied for raising concerns – but about a third did report bullying. This was most commonly by managers, trust management, senior colleagues and in some cases the senior executive of the hospital.

The survey found 50% of our respondents did not feel confident about raising concerns locally without fear of reprisal and the same amount had this fear about raising their concerns  publicly.

Protect Chief Executive Liz Gardiner said, “The survey findings from the DAUK survey paint an extremely varied picture of the speak up culture across Trusts in the UK. We have had many calls to Protect’s Advice Line from NHS workers with concerns over PPE and some NHS staff have told us they do not feel safe speaking up, or are not aware of what support channels exist.

“It is disappointing to hear that 50% of DAUK’s survey respondents did not feel confident about raising concerns locally, and that some staff have reported bullying by senior managers.  Trust leaders need to hear when things are going wrong and what their Freedom to Speak Up Guardians say about the importance of speaking up.  Failing to listen up can undermine the whistleblowing culture of the trust and ultimately this may endanger the safety of staff and patients.”

If an NHS worker has a whistleblowing concern, NHS staff can raise the matter internally at the Trust, speak to their Freedom to Speak Up Guardian (England only), or call the NHS Whistleblowing Advice Line SpeakUp for signposting information. For NHS workers in Scotland, they can call the Alert and Advice Line. For strategic advice on how and where they can raise their concerns further, in addition to legal advice as to what their rights are in doing so, they can call the Protect Advice Line.


Protect is calling on the HMRC to reinstate its fraud hotline for whistleblowers who are trying to raise public interest concerns about misuse of taxpayers’ money.

Protect, which handles around 3,000 whistleblowing cases to its Advice Line each year – has seen a spike in calls to its Advice Line in recent days on furlough fraud.  We are calling on HMRC to reopen its fraud line for whistleblowers who want to speak out on employers exploiting the Government’s furlough scheme.

HMRC have said its ‘telephone and postal contact are temporarily unavailable because of measures put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).’

Liz Gardiner, Chief Executive, Protect, said: “We are very disappointed HMRC has closed its fraud hotline for people to call and report furlough leave fraud: our experience is that this is a new emerging problem that needs to be tackled.

“Our Advice Line is taking many calls from people about furlough fraud – around 25% of our Covid-19 calls have been around this issue, and the trend is upwards. People have simply been told to work despite being furloughed and they obviously feel uncomfortable about this as its wrong – itis deceiving tax payers out of money. We appreciate the pressure HMRC are under but it may be shortsighted not to have an easy way for whistleblowers to report fraud.”

Information about furlough fraud can be reported via the HMRC online digital reporting service which is available by visiting www.gov.uk and searching ‘Report Fraud to HMRC’. HMRC is currently operating an online reporting tool designed to allow the public to disclose instances of any fraud for which HMRC is responsible, in this instance the Job Retention Scheme.

But Protect argue an online form is not ideal as many people are not comfortable using an online service which cannot give them reassurance about their confidentiality, and people cannot ask questions if they are unsure about something and need advice.

An HMRC spokesman said, “HMRC treats its duty of care to those who report fraud to us as a priority and we have a number of mechanisms set in place to ensure the safety of those individuals.”

HMRC have in place the following:

·Completion of this form (and under normal circumstances contacts made to our fraud reporting telephony service) is entirely anonymous unless the individual reporting wishes to provide contact details for further contact.

·Section 3 of the reporting form is designed to give insight into how widely known the information is and this is used in our assessments when reviewing any risk associated with acting upon information provided.

·All information sent to our fraud teams is sanitised before sharing with compliance/criminal intervention teams to remove any reference to a human source.

·HMRC operate a policy of “Neither Confirming Nor Denying” the existence of a human source in any of our activities.

Whistleblowing on furlough fraud is in the public interest and workers should not be deterred trying to do the right thing by speaking up to stop harm.

Protect’s recently published Principles for Recommended Practice: Better Regulators Guide recommends all regulators have in place a whistleblowing hotline.


Far too often is bullying a prevalent concern in the workplace, which places a strain on workplace culture and leaves employees stressed. In the wake of a Cabinet Office investigation into the bullying behaviour of Home Secretary Priti Patel that is set to be concluded this week, the former Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam has recently lodged an employment tribunal claim under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) to argue that he was constructively dismissed for whistleblowing about the Home Secretary’s alleged behaviour.  This case underlines the negative impact a bullying culture can have on an organisation and raises important questions about when a bullying issue crosses over from HR issue into whistleblowing.

Is bullying protected by the whistleblowing protection

The tribunal case will be closely watched by legal commentators as it is expected that Rutnam’s case will consider whether concerns in relation to bullying are covered by the PIDA and the “public interest test”. While it is often assumed that there is a rigid division between whistleblowing concerns and individual HR issues such as bullying, the reality is there is significant overlap between the two. An overly rigid approach to dealing with cases by employers may mean that concerns that should be handled as whistleblowing are incorrectly dealt with as grievances. In short if an employer deals with bullying as purely a complaint between two members of staff they may miss a situation where a damaging culture of bullying exists.

On Protect’s Advice Line 5% of our cases from last year ,137 from a sample of size of 2796, were bullying whistleblowing cases where the concern was based on a culture of bullying, rather than just an isolated incident. This means it may not be effective for employers to just investigate through a grievance or HR mechanisms as it’s a matter that concerns a whole team, department or even a whole workforce, rather than just an individual’s contractual rights.

The role of regulators in a bullying culture

Some regulators such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have taken an interest in cultural issues like bullying as a way to gauge the overall whistleblowing culture of a bank or insurance firm. In its “Dear CEO Letter” the FCA stated that “that poor culture in organisations…can lead directly to harm to consumers, market participants, employees and markets”. This approach has been adopted by other regulators of professionals where culture and bullying conduct by individuals could impact consumers or an individual’s fitness and practice. Other regulators should be taking a similar approach to the FCA by viewing culture as being integral to internal whistleblowing arrangements in the organisations they regulate and introducing rules or standard for such arrangements. This is Principles 5 of the Protect’s guide for regulators, the Principles for Recommended Practice: Better Regulators”.

Other indicators that make bullying a whistleblowing issue

Other indicators for when concerns about bullying may engage the public interest is if it concerns a large number of employees and/or if it affects their rights in a significant way, such as high numbers of work-related stress. Additionally, a culture of bullying may have a wider impact on the public and to the services that the organisation provides. For instance, in a health setting this may affect the quality of care that is being provided by a team which in turn creates patient safety concerns, which would engage the public interest and should warrant a separate investigation.

For the well-being of staff and for the delivery of services, it is important for employers to understand when cultural issues in the workplace become a whistleblowing matter, and that they can identify this from complaints and grievances made by employees and act appropriately.

What Should Employers should be looking out for?

  • Spot trends from whistleblowing concerns and grievances – This will help you identify, investigate and resolve concerns in an effective way and help you make organisation-wide changes to resolve systemic issues.
  • Consider the impact of bullying issues on service delivery – The impact of workplace bullying may be felt by your organisation, its customers or the general public. Make sure that you ascertain the impact of bullying issues so that you are able to better investigate and resolve them.
  • Create and maintain a healthy speak-up culture – Make sure employees feel empowered to come forward to raise concerns. Clearly set out the difference between whistleblowing and grievances in your whistleblowing policy and make sure that managers are properly supported in triaging difficult issues around bullying culture.

 

Being vigilant to trends or repeat incidents from multiple complaints or grievances e.g. harassment (#MeToo).  This again will alert an employer when a grievance issue has an additional whistleblowing element. Fostering a healthy workplace culture is key to minimising bullying as a concern within itself, as well as the knock-on effects that it may have on wider wrongdoing.

By Burcak Dikman


Our one-day Whistleblowing Masterclass has gone live online  – and our first training session has received great feedback from delegates.

Like many organisations faced with new ways of working, the Protect team have worked hard to deliver our in-depth training on whistleblowing and best practice into an engaging online product.

Our Legal Officer Hari Raithatha who delivered the online training alongside his colleague Nneka Egbuji, said, “It has not been a simple task to adapt our usual training to make it suitable for an online audience, but this streamlined product continues to be interactive and encourages delegates to ask questions. The feedback has been great so we are looking forward to the next one.”

The interactive training is suitable for those who wish to get a better understanding of handling whistleblowing concerns and offers:

  • An overview of whistleblowing, the Public Interest Disclosure Act and key legislative changes
  • Key policy messages – review your policy against best practice and understand your responsibilities
  • Handling the whistleblower and the concern– delivered through interactive case studies and scenarios

 

Some feedback from the online training delegates:

“The interactive parts were good, the breakout rooms worked really well. But I also felt that there was plenty of time to really get a lot of explanations and tips from the presenters.”

“The polls and the breakout sessions were a good way to keep people engaged.”

“Very good, with specific examples to understand nuance and complexity of some cases, but also broad enough to prepare for the unknowns.”

 

To find out more about our training and consultancy offer click here.

 

 


Protect has today published guidance for regulators and professional bodies in a bid to drive up public duty standards to investigate and improve whistleblower handling.

“Over 2019 our Better Regulators campaign set out to engage and collaborate with both regulators and professional bodies on how we could offer our whistleblowing expertise to see if we could help how whistleblowing was being handled by regulators” said Protect’s Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons.

A series of open and insightful round tables with more than 30 regulators and professional bodies and the discussions and findings have helped to shape the guidance, ‘Better Regulators: Principles for Recommended Practice’  aimed at regulators, professional bodies, and law enforcement bodies who regulate professionals and those on the prescribed persons list.

“What we found through the round table discussions was a wide variety of approaches to setting standards. We were surprised some regulators did not see themselves as having a role here – while others thought that any standards would be too onerous for the diverse and numerous bodies that they regulated. We also found variation in how regulators themselves treat whistleblowers who approach them – how they act on concerns, and how they learn from the concerns raised” explained Protect’s Head of Policy.

The round table findings mirror data from Protect’s Advice Line, which handles around 3,000 whistleblowing cases each year who say their experience of regulators is ‘patchy and inconsistent’ with many finding regulators a ‘dead end for their concerns’.

Protect hope ‘Better Regulators: Principles for Recommended Practice’ will encourage higher standards in the regulatory landscape, offering insight on what a regulator or professional body needs to understand to run an effective whistleblowing system: accessibility, confidentiality, feedback and addressing victimisation.

“If regulators themselves respond better to whistleblowers, they will encourage others to raise concerns and harm will be stopped sooner. Whistleblowers who have had the courage to speak up will be respected and treated fairly. The wider public will benefit because wrongdoing is addressed” explained Protect’s  Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons.

Read Better Regulators: Principles for Recommended Practice

Better Regulators Campaign


In the UK, certain regulators are recognised as ‘prescribed persons’ by the government, for example the Care Quality Commission and the Health and Safety Executive. Being a ‘prescribed person’ means that an organisation can be approached to receive and handle specific concerns, as listed online.

This matters for whistleblowers, as making a disclosure of information (i.e. blowing the whistle) to a prescribed person is an act which carries stronger legal protection than disclosing information to a body which is not ‘prescribed’.

The Prescribed Persons (Reports on Disclosures of Information) Regulations 2017, passed on 1 April 2017, imposed new rules: a duty on prescribed persons to publish annual reports on the whistleblowing disclosures they have received by 1 October each year.

Prescribed persons have a duty to report:

  • The number of disclosures received from whistleblowers
  • How many of these disclosures lead to a regulatory response/action
  • What action was taken, and the operational impact of this (e.g. if the information from the disclosure helped the prescribed person to perform it’s regulatory function)
  • A summary of the prescribed persons own functions and objectives

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

BEIS, who collate all the reports each January, have stated:

“The aim of this duty is to increase transparency … and to raise confidence among whistleblowers that their disclosures are taken seriously. Producing reports … will go some way to assure individuals who blow the whistle that action is taken in respect of their disclosures.”

However, BEIS also confirm:

“In collating these reports, BEIS has not assessed them for compliance with the duty. The legal obligation falls on the prescribed person to meet the annual reporting duty requirement.”

The Problem

The danger of introducing a duty and not even assessing compliance, far from enforcing it, is that this can bring the opposite of the desired effect – and reduce confidence in the regulatory system.

Our records show that almost three years on from the introduction of the regulations, almost a third of prescribed persons (32%) are not fully compliant with the reporting duty, and one in 20 have not published any of the information required by the duty. However, when prescribed persons do not comply with the duty to report, the government take no action for this breach of their duties; and it appears there are no plans to change this.

Without enforcement of the duty, how can confidence be built from the reports being published; how can a whistleblower be sure their concerns won’t be ignored, when over a third of all those prescribed don’t provide all the information that they are required to by law.

Protect are campaigning for a new law, which would enable whistleblowers to hold regulators to account if their concerns are ignored, or if their confidentiality is breached. Our new law would create a requirements for regulators to uphold set standards when it comes to handling and responding to whistleblowers. An oversight body, a Whistleblowing Commissioner, would be established, which would have powers to issue penalties if these standards are breached.

By Laura Fatah


Following the news that an employment tribunal has been lodged against Home Secretary Priti Patel under whistleblowing laws, Protect Chief Executive Liz Gardiner said the case showed how “whistleblowing laws can be used to hold even those in the highest office to account.”

She said: “Far too often we see managers and senior personnel disregarding codes of conduct, and bullying behaviour is too prevalent in today’s workplace. Ministers, as public office holders, have to adhere to the Nolan principles and their own ministerial code. This includes being accountable to the public for their decisions, and being scrutinised for that. We will watch this case with interest.”

Former Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam has said he was constructively dismissed from his role after accusing the home secretary of bullying behaviour.  Patel, who is  being investigated by the Cabinet Office over her behaviour, has denied claims  she bullied civil servants in three government departments.


The Covid-19 crisis has given rise to fast changing laws and regulations, and new loopholes and opportunities for fraud have emerged. Within a few weeks of the furlough scheme’s introduction, Protect has seen a rising trend in calls from whistleblowers concerned their employer is acting unlawfully.

Whistleblowers will be vital in policing this scheme to ensure that tax payers are not defrauded out of vital public funds.

Here is a summary of some of the cases (with changed names)  from the Advice Line:

Being asked to come back and work as a “volunteer”

The majority of the cases we have received to our Advice Line have focused on situations where workers have either been asked or told to go back to work even though they are part of the job retention scheme.

Craig works for a small company where all the staff have been furloughed. He and other staff have been asked to carry on working for the company as “volunteers”, so the work will be unpaid. Craig has raised this as part of a group of concerned colleagues, but his managers have responded to say that such arrangements are legitimate and that they took legal advice.

Some of our cases show whistleblowers being aware that their employer is breaching the rules across the company

We have also seen cases where whistleblowers have become aware of actions or plans to breach the Furlough rules that doesn’t involve themselves personally being affected.

Timothy works in the finance department of a small company.  During his work organising the company accounts he notices that he and 5 other members of staff (including a director) have been placed on furlough leave.  All the staff on the scheme are still working for the company.  Timothy raised his concerns with his line manager, the Finance Director. The response was to remove Timothy from the scheme, but the line manager refused to remove anyone else as he felt bodies such as HMRC would not have the resources to prosecute all those companies that breached the rules.

Dismissal, victimisation or threats when the concerns is raised

Worryingly, yet unsurprisingly we have seen whistleblowers threatened, victimised or dismissed once they have raised their concerns.

Some have been threatened with dismissal if they object to their employers plans:

Eloise is a senior manager working in financial services.  The Chief executive sent an email to all directors saying that staff will be furloughed (this is around 30 people) despite the fact that all staff are working from home and that as the staff work manly from sales commission which falls outside of the scheme. Eloise raised her concerns with the Chief Executive who threatened her with dismissal if she objected to the plan.

Other whistleblowers have been dismissed after voicing their concerns.

Mohammad was furloughed by his employer but was then asked to carry on working.  When Mohammad refused to work as it went against the Government guidelines his employer threatened him with dismissal.  A few days later Mohammad received a letter making him redundant as the company lacked the cash flow to pay his wages.

What a concerned worker can do if concerned:

Check the Government Guidance

Though the guidance has changed many times it is a good resource to look at what the Government have produced for workers, and what they expect from employers. This will give any concerned worker an idea of whether what the employer is doing breaches this or not.

Consider raising it first internally

Raising the concerns externally

If you do not feel that internal channels will be effective, or if you have already raised the concern internally, you can contact HMRC on their Fraud Reporting website via their online form.  You can also contact Protect for advice through our online form or by calling 020 3117 2520.