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Why it’s time to improve protections for whistleblowers

Once a ground-breaking law, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 which protects whistleblowers in the UK, and which has served as a benchmark for whistleblowing law, is being overtaken by newer, better and broader legislation, in Ireland and Australia, and the new EU Whistleblowing Directive which will be in operation by 2021.

Unless the UK takes action now, there is a very real danger workers’ rights in the UK will be left in the dark ages – which is why Protect are campaigning for a new whistleblowing law.

We want the same EU protection as a minimum standard for whistleblowers in the UK and Protect believes the law requires more of employers, particularly when it comes to preventing victimisation of whistleblowers in the workplace.

Providing protection and support for those who speak up about malpractice, wrongdoing  and fraud reaps both commercial and competitive benefit for Britain’s public and private sectors. Effective legislation can also act as a deterrent to potential wrongdoers.  However, far too often whistleblowers suffer because they have no internal reporting channels, or experience detriment from employers and co-workers when they speak up.

Protect propose the new bill cover the following key areas:

  1. Extending the scope of the law to include all those who raise concerns in a work-related context. This would allow volunteers, non-executive directors and others to rely on legal protections if they are victimized for raising concerns.
  2. Increasing the range of whistleblowing concerns (disclosures) to qualify for protection to include breaches of the employers’ policies and behaviour which can adversely affect the employers reputation or financial stability –  for example, as seen with the charity Kids Company which closed when donors began withdrawing support, alarmed over mismanagement stories.
  3. Setting whistleblowing standards for employers to follow. Currently, outside of health and financial services, few employers face any requirements to have policies and procedures in place. Protect would like to see the introduction of specific mandatory arrangements to ensure that employers deal effectively with whistleblowing concerns.
  4. Providing protection to individuals who raise concerns with their trade unions representatives.
  5. Setting standards for prescribed persons (recognised regulators) to promote a consistency of approach in handling whistleblowing concerns across Britain’s range of industries.
  6. Increased clarity around settlement agreements and gagging clauses.
  7. Providing legal protection to those who are mistakenly identified as a whistleblower, or who may make a future disclosure.
  8. The introduction of an Independent Whistleblowing Commissioner,  to investigate where concerns have been mishandled, set standards for employers and prescribed persons, improve public awareness and impose fines on employers or regulators for breaches of standards.
  9. Increasing the time limit an individual has to bring a claim in Employment Tribunal from three months to six months.
  10. Introducing legal aid for whistleblowers.

Read Protect’s Draft Whistleblowing Bill


By Protect Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons