Raising concerns, also known as whistleblowing, arises where a worker brings information about a wrongdoing to the attention of their employer or a relevant organisation, such as a professional or regulatory body. It is more formally known as ‘making a disclosure in the public interest’. The relevant legislation appears in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.
Workers are often the first people to witness any type of wrongdoing within an organisation. The information that workers may uncover could prevent wrongdoing, which may damage an organisation’s reputation and/or performance, and could in some cases even prevent harm or death of fellow workers or other individuals. It is therefore important that when workers do raise a concern, that employers respond appropriately.
A person who raises a concern (also known as a whistle blower) is protected by law and should not be treated unfairly or lose their job as a result of having raised concerns. This means that workers can take a case to an employment tribunal if they have been victimised at work or have lost their job because they have made a disclosure.
In order to qualify for legal protection, the person raising the concern must have a ‘reasonable belief’ that a wrongdoing has occurred and that it is not in the public interest. In raising the concern, the individual does not need to ‘prove’ that it has occurred, but must be able to demonstrate that they believe it to be true.
Complaints that count as whistleblowing would relate to one or more of the following:
- A criminal offence, e.g., fraud
- A danger to health and safety of an individual
- Damage to the environment
- A miscarriage of justice
- A breach of legal obligation, e.g., a business operating without the required insurance
- Information relating to any of the above has been or is likely to be deliberately concealed.
Individuals can raise concerns at any time about an incident that has happened in the past, is happening currently, or where they believe it will happen in the near future.
Employers should demonstrate, through visible leadership at all levels of the organisation, that they welcome and encourage workers to make disclosures and where they do, that they will be heard. Although there is no legal obligation on employers to have a whistleblowing policy in place, the existence of a whistleblowing policy is a useful tool to demonstrate an employer’s commitment to listen to the concerns of workers. It can also help establish an open and transparent working culture in which workers feel able and supported to speak up, without fear of reprisal. There are also clear benefits for an organisation if a worker feels able and supported to make a disclosure internally rather than going to a third party. This way there is an opportunity to act promptly on the information and put right whatever wrongdoing is found.
It is also important that workers know how to make a disclosure, and what will happen if they do raise a concern. It may be that workers may raise a grievance, without realising that their complaint meets the criteria of a public interest disclosure. It is essential that a distinction is made and that the complaint is dealt with appropriately, particularly because a worker raising a whistleblowing complaint does have additional legal protections.
If you require any support or advice regarding the implementation of a whistleblowing or raising concerns policy, or in responding to a disclosure from one of your workers, please do get in touch with us here.