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What is the difference between whistleblowing and grievance?


A worker raising a concern with someone in authority internally and/or externally (e.g. to regulators, MPs, the media) about wrongdoing, risk or malpractice that affects others.

Protect’s definition of whistleblowing

This definition is in line with the legal definition of whistleblowing under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA)

Not limited to raising concerns externally

Whistleblowing covers everything from raising your concerns with your managers (internal) to raising your concerns with regulators, the police and the media (external).

Workers only

Our definition of whistleblower relates to “workers” and not a member of the public or a customer. In the latter cases whistleblowing may not be the appropriate way for the individual to raise their concerns.

Speaking up or Whistleblowing?

Some organisations will use other terms in their whistleblowing policies such as ‘speak up’ or ‘raising concerns’ – these all fall within the definition of whistleblowing and mean the same thing.

Our Advice Line

If you’ve seen, heard or suspect wrongdoing in your workplace, or know of a serious risk or accident ‘waiting to happen’ – we can help.

What is a whistleblowing concern?

There are many issues that could be considered to be whistleblowing issues. Common examples of whistleblowing that we hear about on our Advice Line include:

  • an employer breaking the law or breaching contract
  • financial wrongdoing such as fraud
  • the health and safety of patients, staff or the general public being put at risk
  • ethical concerns such as the conduct of staff or conflicts of interest

Information on the categories of wrongdoing can be found here.

What is the difference between whistleblowing and raising a grievance?

This can be a really tricky distinction. If you are unsure whether your concerns are best raised as whistleblowing concerns or as grievances, have a look at the differences between the two processes, outlined below:


  • Risk to others – whistleblowing is about raising concerns relating to wrongdoing risk or malpractice that you witness in the workplace.
  • Public interest – whistleblowing concerns should be in the public interest, and unlike grievances, the concerns may not even affect you. They should, in any case, have wider implications for other workers or the public.
  • Process – there is no set process for investigating whistleblowing concerns. There is also no right to be accompanied to a meeting with your employer to discuss your concerns.
  • Confidentiality – your employer should respect your wish for confidentiality.
  • Feedback – you may never know the outcome of a whistleblowing concern. For example, if your employer investigates the behaviour of another individual and disciplines them as a result, that would be confidential information between the employer and that other individual.
  • Appeal – there is no general right to appeal if you are unhappy with how your employer deals with your whistleblowing concerns. You may, however, consider escalating your concerns at this stage (it is worth checking your employer’s whistleblowing policy, if they have one, before doing so).


  • Risk to self – grievances typically relate to how you, specifically, are being treated rather than relating to the treatment of others.
  • Types of issues – grievances may be raised about various issues, including: things you are asked to do as part of your job; breaches by your employer of your employment rights / your contract of employment, or the way you are personally being treated at work.
  • Process – the independent public body, ACAS, has set out Codes of Practice in relation to discipline and grievance procedures. You can find more information about how to raise a grievance on the ACAS website.
  • Support – you have the right to be accompanied at a grievance hearing if the complaint is about your employer breaching a term of your employment contract.
  • Outcome – grievances result in a legal determination (decision) on the issue that you raise. The ACAS Codes provide for employees to be given the outcome of their grievance e.g. an apology, a payment due or a change to the working practices.
  • Appeal – you should be given the opportunity to appeal should you feel unsatisfied with the outcome.

Thinking of blowing a whistle?

If you want to blow the whistle to your employer and they don’t have a whistleblowing policy, contact our Advice Line on 020 3117 2520 or send us an email. We can help you think through how best to raise your concerns and check whether your concerns regard a matter of public interest or how you have been treated as an individual.

When does bullying become a whistleblowing concern?

Bullying is a very difficult matter to tackle. If you are being bullied yourself, you should raise this as a grievance. If your employer has an anti-bullying policy, follow the process there.

However, there can be instances when bullying may become a whistleblowing matter and there are some factors which may indicate this:

  • How many people are affected? If the bullying affects the whole team (or a large number of employees), this might suggest a bullying culture and it may be more appropriate to use the whistleblowing process (check your employer’s policy says on bullying).
  • What is the impact of the bullying? Does the bullying culture have a wider impact on the work you deliver? As an example, a bullying culture within a hospital may impact the quality of care provided to patients if the bullying culture is affecting a substantial number of the team and is resulting in high numbers of work-related stress and sickness.
  • Who is instigating the bullying? If it is a senior member of staff, then it is more likely that the concern should be raised as a whistleblowing concern.
  • How serious is the bullying? Is the bullying a one-off isolated incident, or is it a series of events which may suggest a deliberate campaign of bullying? If the latter, then this suggests intentional wrongdoing.

However, from an employer’s perspective, even when an individual says that there is a bullying culture in their team, if no one else comes forward and if there is no record of grievances that have previously been filed about the matter, then this can make it difficult for your employer to investigate and act. It is important that your colleagues who are also affected should be willing to participate in any subsequent investigation, otherwise it may be more effective to raise this as a collective grievance or by enforcing your own rights in the workplace by seeking the advice of a trade union or from ACAS.

My employer doesn’t have a whistleblowing policy – should I raise a grievance instead?

As we set out above, your employer should follow a different route for dealing with whistleblowing concerns and grievances. Using the wrong process can make matters difficult. For example, it is difficult for a whistleblower to have their confidentiality respected if a grievance is followed (a fair process may mean an individual complained about needs to know the basis of a problem to allow them to put their case).

If you want to blow the whistle to your employer and they don’t have a policy to follow, contact us for advice. We can help you think through who best to raise your concerns with, and how to express the concern as a matter of public interest, rather than a complaint about how you have been treated as an individual.