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Victimised at work for whistleblowing

VICTIMISATION AT WORK FOR WHISTLEBLOWING

All acts of victimisation against whistleblowers are a breach of your employment rights.

Victimisation may come from managers or co-workers and it can come in many different forms, from bullying and harassment to dismissal from your job. This section will give you advice on how to deal with this.

If you have been victimised but it is not connected to whistleblowing, then we recommend that you call one of the other organisations found on our referral page.

Have you been victimised for whistleblowing?

Working out if you are being victimised can sometimes be difficult to judge.

A helpful way to think about whether an emotional response to whistleblowing crosses over into victimisation is whether any acts from managers or co-workers makes it difficult for you to do your job. If they do, this is more likely to be victimisation. For example, there can be a big difference between not being greeted in the morning because your co-workers are unhappy about you blowing the whistle (not necessarily victimisation) and being taken off a key project you were overseeing (victimisation).

There is no formal list of what is considered victimisation but here are some examples:

  • Personal retaliation: bullying, harassment or ostracisation that makes your life difficult in the workplace, or grievances or complaints made by colleagues in response to you raising whistleblowing concerns etc.
  • Misuse of disciplinary processes: unfair comments about your performance or conduct by senior staff members, investigations into fabricated concerns about your conduct or performance, directly disciplining you for raising concerns etc. (if you think this might apply to you, read our tailored advice further down the page on how to respond to investigations against you)
  • Imposed changes to your contract: removal of key responsibilities, unrequested relocation, imposed changes to your working pattern etc.
  • Preventing your career progress: denial of a job or a promotion
  • Post-employment detriment: failure to provide an appropriate reference or a fabricated bad reference

STEP 1: Tell your employer that you have been victimised for whistleblowing

It’s important to inform your employer if you have been victimised for raising concerns, even if it’s an informal conversation or via email. Telling your employer is usually the quickest way to resolve problems in the workplace.

It’s helpful to inform your employer about the victimisation in writing (or follow up a verbal conversation in writing) to ensure you have a paper trail about what has happened and who you have told about it.

If your colleagues are victimising you, consider telling your line manager or supervisor.

If you’ve already told your line manager and it hasn’t helped, consider consulting the whistleblowing policy, or approaching human resources or a senior manager who you trust.

If your line manager or supervisor is the one victimising you, consider consulting the whistleblowing policy, or approaching human resources or a senior manager who you trust. Don’t assume that just because your line manager is victimising you that other senior managers or other employer functions (such as HR or the whistleblowing function) will act the same.

STEP 2: Put in a grievance

If speaking to your employer informally hasn’t stopped the victimisation, you may want to consider putting in a grievance. A grievance is a more formal process to challenge the negative repercussions you’ve faced for whistleblowing.

It’s important that in your grievance, you go into detail about the link between the whistleblowing concerns you raised, and the victimisation you have suffered.

In the grievance, mention: (i) what you have witnessed, (ii) the date you raised your concerns, (iii) who you raised the concerns to and (iv) how exactly you were victimised in response to raising concerns.

If you are not happy with the outcome of the grievance, you may wish to appeal the decision using your employer’s grievance policy. You will need to do so quickly, and beware of time limits for bringing an employment tribunal claim (see more below).

Read our page on the difference between raising a grievance and whistleblowing for more information.

STEP 3: Bring an Employment Tribunal claim

If your grievance is unsuccessful, then the next step to challenge the victimisation would be to bring an employment tribunal claim.

Bringing a claim against your employer in the employment tribunal is a very serious step and should only be used as a last resort, because it risks irreparably damaging the employment relationship. But sometimes it can be the only option to hold your employer accountable.

Things to consider if you are bringing an employment tribunal claim for victimisation:

  • Time limits: there are strict time limits to bringing a claim in the Employment Tribunal – usually 3 months (minus 1 day) from the date of the victimisation. If the victimisation is ongoing, this time limit will usually run from the last act of victimisation. If you are concerned about this, contact us for advice.
  • Seek advice: Try and get advice on the Employment Tribunal process from your union, local Law Centre or Citizens’ Advice. You can find free legal support at lawworks.org.uk. Our Advice Line can also help with advice on whistleblowing law, but unfortunately we cannot accompany you to the Tribunal stage.
  • Prepare your ET1 claim form: Your ET1 form is the form you need to submit to the Employment Tribunal outlining your claim. It should include as much detail as possible about (i) what whistleblowing disclosures you made, (ii) when they were made and who to, and (iii) the details of the victimisation that followed (by whom, when etc.)
  • Establish ‘material influence’: you will need to show that the fact that you raised whistleblowing concerns had a ‘material influence’ on the negative treatment you’re complaining about. It doesn’t matter if there are also other reasons for the victimisation, so long as you can establish that the whistleblowing had a material influence.

     

Are you being disciplined or facing an investigation because you raised whistleblowing concerns?

If you are being disciplined by more senior staff members or facing a grievance launched by co-workers in response to you raising concerns, you will need to respond to the allegations made against you. It is not enough simply to say that the disciplinary process is being used against you because you raised whistleblowing concerns. This is because whistleblowing law doesn’t protect you from being held accountable for wrongdoing, so you need to defend the allegations made against you.

Here are some tips on how to defend yourself and challenge your employer’s actions:

  • Point out that you think this is happening because you raised whistleblowing concerns if you believe either that managers or co-workers are using a formal disciplinary or grievance process to victimise you .
  • Defend any allegations against your own conduct or performance. Whistleblowing will not give you a shield against legitimate concerns about your conduct.
  • Draw a detailed link between the whistleblowing concerns you raised, who you raised them to, the response and the formal grievance/disciplinary process you’re going through
  • If you are facing gross misconduct charges, then please get in touch with us for advice.

If the grievance or disciplinary process has found against you and you haven’t been able to defend yourself, you may need to appeal against the decision. You should challenge the allegations made, drawing a link between the formal decision and the concerns you raised.

If you have been dismissed, please see our page on dismissal for more information.

Do:

  • Keep calm and reasonable. This will be the best way to highlight unreasonable behaviour from your employer or colleagues.
  • Challenge the victimisation, either informally or formally through a grievance. Your employer needs to know what you’re going through.
  • Keep paper evidence of what is happening: If you have any informal discussions with your employer about the victimisation, it helps to follow up via email/text confirming what you discussed. Take notes at any meetings. Draw up a timeline of key events that record the victimisation.

Don't

  • Don’t suffer in silence. If you’re being victimised, seek advice from us, your trade union, ACAS, Citizens Advice or a lawyer.
  • Don’t assume that blowing the whistle will protect you from allegations about your own conduct. You will need to respond to any allegations put forward by your employer individually.
  • Don’t wait around. There are strict time limits (3 months minus a day from date of the last detriment). Please see our referral page for organisations to contact for help.

When to contact us for advice:

  • If victimisation is stopping you from either raising your whistleblowing concerns or escalating them
  • If you are unsure who to approach and you want to informally discuss the victimisation that you are suffering
  • If you are unsure how to put together a grievance or complaint to formally challenge the victimisation you are suffering
  • If you are concerned that the disciplinary process will result in your dismissal
  • If you are thinking of resigning because of the victimisation you are experiencing

People we've helped

Felix (not his real name) worked in a care home. He and some of his colleagues believed that a manager was stealing from residents by recording money as being given to particular residents when they had received none…

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