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I want to blow the whistle outside of my workplace

I don’t want to raise my concern to my employer. I want to take it outside to a regulator, the police, my MP or the media. What should I do? It depends on the situation. Are you still working for your employer or have you moved on to a different job? Have you been victimised? Forced out or dismissed? The advice below and any action you take depends on your current situation. The concern, or issue (known as a ‘disclosure’) made outside of your employer to an MP, the media or a regulator, is covered by the whistleblowing law PIDA. What this means is there is legal protection in place because speaking up about a wrongdoing to regulators, the police, MPs and even the media, is welcomed because its vital to holding organisations to account. Case study: HEALTH AND SAFETY MALPRACTICE THE STORY David was a long-serving maintenance engineer at a large UK food production company responsible for ensuring that production lines were kept hygienic and smooth-running. The company had been in the process of transferring its production to a new building which involved installers using welding equipment and potentially hazardous cleaning materials. David was concerned as he believed this process could potentially contaminate production as food was still passing through the production lines for several hours while work was going on. David felt that the installation work should have been carried out after food production had ended. He also believed that management and maintenance supervisors had turned a blind eye to the potential contamination and food hygiene hazards despite other employees having similar concerns. David contacted PCaW initially to report his concerns about food safety within the company and to inform us that although none of the employees were at risk, certain employees in the food production industry had not been acting in a responsible manner regarding food contamination. WHAT WE ADVISED We advised David that we are not a reporting line and that our aim is to help employees who are witnesses to wrongdoing or who are worried about health and safety, to raise their concerns to the appropriate people or authorities in the most responsible way. We asked David whether he had spoken to the supervisor at the time or his manager. David said he hadn’t as he was worried that raising these concerns might get him into trouble. He also said that the company normally operated very high hygiene standards and didn’t want to rock the boat. He had also been thinking about bringing the issue up with the Food Standards Agency (FSA). We advised David that he should raise his concerns internally with his manager before going to the FSA especially as senior management may not be aware of the situation. We advised he should calmly explain what he witnessed and that he did not think it was appropriate to keep the food line running whilst installation and fitting work was going on. WHAT HAPPENED David spoke to his manager and now feels that the situation has been dealt with sufficiently and senior management have taken these concerns seriously. They have agreed to give the relevant parties appropriate training and also agreed with David’s concerns about the way repair work had been carried out. Other staff have now also raised their concerns. David thanked us for the advice and said we have been very helpful. What is the difference between all of the outside ‘external’ bodies? Some regulators such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the police have the power to act on concerns and can carry out an investigation, prosecute, and publish reports. In contrast, MPs, the media and campaign groups such as Greenpeace, and human rights group Liberty are powerful advocates and can help campaign and expose a serious wrongdoing that is not being dealt with. From a legal point of view, all of these options carry legal protection against victimsation, but the legal tests and how they are applied, is different depending on who you take your concern to. See our PIDA guide for more detail or Call our Advice Line. I am still working for the same employer Have you thought about raising the matter internally?  Sometimes this can be a quicker way to resolve a matter and stop the problem continuing and is usually the best first step to take if you have a concern. If you want to raise the issue externally, why is this? There is nothing wrong with doing it this way, but do weigh up which route you think will be best for you.   Things to consider

  • Think about raising the concern internally as a first step to give your employer the opportunity to investigate and correct any wrongdoing, risk or malpractice. Is this based on past experiences maybe other concerns have not be dealt with in the past, or based on how other colleagues have either been treated or had their concerns ignored by your employer.
  • If you have already raised your concern and your employer has failed to deal with the concerns, have you considered asking for feedback? (click here to see advice and information where your concerns have been ignored by your employer).

  When to call us for advice Here is are some scenarios that if they resonate with your situation you should contact us for advice:

  • If you have no confidence in your employer to do the right thing because of poor relations with managers or past whistleblowing cases which have been mishandled or ignored or where whistleblowers have been poorly treated. Before approaching an external body, contact us for advice.
  • If you raised the concerns confidentially or anonymously its a good idea to contact us for further advice.
  • If you are considering raising their concerns externally because you are being victimized, or you are having doubts about raising concerns externally due to a fear of being victimised, then we recommend you call us for advice.
  • If you have any problems with your employment, whether they are related to whistleblowing or are unrelated (e.g. your are taking a grievance out against your line manager).
  • If you are worried about whether a regulator can safeguard their confidentiality or where a caller is thinking of raising their concerns anonymously to a regulator – then call us for advice.
  • If you have any questions about raising the concerns externally, call us before approaching making the disclosure.

Case Study FOOD SAFETY Protect’s advice: Protect contacted a supermarket and Food Standards Agency on caller’s behalf – to alert them as to the wrongdoing alleged. THE STORY John worked in quality control at an abattoir and factory dealing mainly with pork. John was concerned that the abattoir was changing kill dates on the meat in order to give it a longer shelf life. This meat was then being sent to large supermarkets nationally with the wrong sell-by and use-by dates. John was particularly concerned when he realised that one kill date had been changed by up to 9 days. John knew that government regulations require all pork to be eaten within ten days of the kill date and this meat would be unsafe if sold to consumers. John had tried to speak to his manager but he had been told to mind his own business. John was unsure who at the top of the company knew about this but thought that the owners would also be aware of this practice. Although John knew other staff were worried, no one wanted to speak up. WHAT WE ADVISED We advised John that given the immediate risk we could contact the supermarket directly and give them thebatch number and date it was sent out. This way they could ensure the meat would never reach the supermarket shelves. We said we could also let the industry regulator, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), know about the issue. John agreed and we contacted the supermarket and the FSA. WHAT HAPPENED The next day the abattoir was told their contract with the supermarket had been put on red alert. As a result,the practice of changing the kill dates stopped.     You are no longer working for the organisation   If you have left or are no longer working for the employer you have concerns about then you will be a lot freer to raise your concerns externally. This is because the risk of victimisation is much lower if you are no longer working in the organisations, where the majority of victimisation occurs.  If though you feel a previous employer had victimised you for raising concerns externally then do not hesitate to contact us for advice.   What should I do?

  • If you resigned or were dismissed but uninterested in taking an Employment Tribunal claim, then you are in a good position to raise the concern with an external body. Most victimisation takes place when a concern is raised by someone still in employment.If you’ve left the risk is significantly lower and will focus on references (if it’s the later point or the caller is worried about this issue they should call us for advice).

 

  • Regardless of whether you raised the concern with your employer or not,if you no longer work for the organisation you are in a good position to raise the concern with a regulator. Do not feel you have to either raise or notify your former employer of your decision to raise the concern.

When to call us for advice

  • If you feel you have been victimised or reputation damaged by a former employer because you raised concerns to an external body after you left employment – call us for advice.
  • If you are worried about receiving a bad reference because of raising a concern
  • If you are pursuing a claim at employment tribunal, whether that’s under PIDA or unfair dismissal, this should not prevent you escalating the concern to an external body, but it may affect settlement negotiations. If you have any kind of legal advice, whether that’s through the trade union or other sources, make sure they are aware that you want to escalate the concerns, and what you’re planning to do.  We can also assist so please contact us for advice.Do’s:

Do’s:

  • Really consider whether there is a further internal route to raising the concern if you’re still employed by the organisation you have concerns about;
  • If you feel the employer has failed to deal with your concerns, before contacting an external body consider asking for feedback and look at our ‘your concerns have been ignored by your employer’.
  • Consider which external body your approaching, remember that regulators, professional bodies etc. have powers and resources to take action on the concerns. The media and MPs role is to highlight failure but have no formal powers to take action, they are better placed to highlight a situation where both the employer and regulator have failed.
  • If you have left the organisation remember that victimisation is a lower risk as you’re no longer working there; if you fear victimisation or feel that you have been victimised for making an external disclosure, then please call us for advice;
  • Seek advice if you’re looking to raise concerns confidentially with a regulator while still employed
  • When contacting an external body send a follow up email or note down who you spoken to within that organisation as this will establish an audit trail.

Don’t:

  • Raise your concerns with an external body while still working for the organisation over fears of being ignored or victimised without calling us for advice first;
  • Raise your concerns anonymously with an external body, especially if you are still employed by the organisation you have concerns about. If you are considering this option as the only means of escalating your concern call us for advice.
  • Escalate your concerns without referring to legal advisors (whether that’s a trade union representative, lawyer or us) if you are taking forward an ET claim, grievance or where there is a disciplinary issue. You will need advice in this situation.