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The Best Warning System: Whistleblowing During Covid-19

About the report

What does whistleblowing in a pandemic look like? Do employers take concerns more seriously – as we would all hope? Does the victimisation of whistleblowers still happen? Does a pandemic compel more people to speak up? We wanted to know, so we analysed the data from all the Covid-19 related calls to our Advice Line.

We found that too many whistleblowers feel ignored and isolated once they raise their concerns and that these failing are a systematic problem.

Protect, which runs an Advice Line for whistleblowers, and supports more than 3,000 whistleblowers each year, has been inundated with Covid-19 whistleblowing concerns, many of an extremely serious nature. Its report, The Best Warning System: Whistleblowing During Covid-19 examines over 600 Covid-19 calls to its Advice Line between March and September. The majority of cases were over furlough fraud and risk to public safety, such as a lack of social distancing and PPE in the workplace.

About Protect

For almost 30 years, we have run a confidential Advice Line for whistleblowers, and to date have supported more than 45,000 whistleblowers across all sectors.

Key findings

Employers ignored 41% of all whistleblowers raising Covid-19 concerns, this figure climbed to 43% if the whistleblower was raising a concern about public safety risks.

20% of whistleblowers were dismissed after raising concerns about Covid-19 issues.

Almost half of concerns raised regarding ‘increasing risk to public safety’ were from health and care key workers, with just 10% saying their employers investigated their concerns.

Managers were more likely to be dismissed for raising concerns during the pandemic, with 32% of managers compared with 21% of non-managers losing their jobs.

Furlough fraud within the workplace made up 62% of Covid-19 cases to the Advice Line – and is the fastest emerging issue Protect has dealt with in its history.

Case Studies

The Best Warning System: Whistleblowing During Covid-19 features real life anonymised case studies from whistleblowers reporting on furlough fraud and risks to public safety such as the case studies below:

Care worker raising Covid-19 safety concerns dismissed by bullying managers

Raj worked as a care assistant for a company of care homes.  Raj raised concerns that an outbreak of Covid-19 within the home had been handled poorly and that a decision taken by the home not to refer a patient to hospital had resulted in their death. Raj also raised concerns about patients being treated outside of the Care Quality Commission’s Regulations on Dignity and Respect.

Raj reported these issues to his manager and the CQC. Rather than investigate his concerns, managers subjected Raj to a period of targeted bullying by managers within the home, Raj was dismissed by his employer on the grounds of poor conduct which were unfounded.

Social distancing safety concerns ignored in food factory – then employee dismissed

Terry works in production at a food factory and has been raising concerns about Covid-19 safety to his employers since February. People queueing in corridors is not compliant with social distancing guidelines which he raised with HR – but his concerns were ignored. He was told not to come into work wearing a face mask, but when he did, to protect himself and colleagues, he was suspended. Now staff are allowed to wear face masks, but Terry has been dismissed. He is being supported by his union and appealing the dismissal.

Report recommendations

  • Introduction of a legal standard on employers to have whistleblowing arrangements in place, including a requirement to give whistleblowers feedback on the concerns raised
  • A penalty regime where an organisation can be fined or sanctioned for breaching the whistleblowing standards.
  • New legal standards on all regulators to ensure they deal effectively and promptly with whistleblowing concerns being raised to them – and regulators doing much more to drive up standards of whistleblowing arrangements amongst entities they regulate
  • Legal aid and reform to whistleblowing law is needed to ensure that whistleblowers who are treated badly or dismissed have an effective remedy.

Download the report

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