May 2020: Coronavirus / COVID-19
This chapter provides information for multi-agency practitioners about how to raise concerns at work, known as whistleblowing. It includes information for staff who have concerns about something they have witnessed, been told about or have other suspicions about wrongdoing in the workplace.
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Information for Concerned Members of Staff
- 3. Information for Managers
- 4. Confidentiality
- 5. Protection and Support for Whistleblowers
- Appendix 1: Top Tips for Workers
- Appendix 2: Useful Organisations
Whistleblowing is also known as raising concerns at work; it is when a person intentionally and purposefully brings attention to an activity they have witnessed or have a credible suspected consideration of a wrongdoing that is happening or has happened in the workplace. This may be relating to:
- criminal activity;
- miscarriages of justice;
- danger to health and safety;
- damage to the environment;
- failure to comply with any legal obligation or regulatory requirements;
- bribery; and / or
- the deliberate concealment of any of the above matters.
Please note: Any concerns relating to an adult who is experiencing or at risk of abuse or neglect must be reported via these safeguarding adults procedures (see Safeguarding Adult Procedures section).
Anyone working at any level of the organisation, including volunteer or contractors, should raise any concerns that they may have. It is expected that staff who have serious concerns about any aspect of the organisation’s work or that of another worker, should voice their concerns.
No one acting in good faith will be penalised for doing so. Any attempt to victimise employees for raising genuine concerns or attempts to prevent such concerns being raised should be regarded as a disciplinary matter.
Knowingly and intentionally raising malicious, unfounded allegations should also be regarded as a disciplinary matter.
Whistleblowing does not:
- require employees to investigate in any way in order to prove that their suspicions are well founded (although they should have reasonable grounds for their suspicions);
- replace the organisation’s grievance procedure which is available to employees concerned about their own situation;
- replace the organisation’s disciplinary procedure; or
- replace the complaints procedure (whistleblowing is not the same as a complaint).
2. Information for Concerned Members of Staff
2.1 Raising concerns
Where possible the member of staff should raise the issue/s directly with the individual concerned, the organisation supports open and honest dialogue between colleagues and sharing of constructive feedback in order to promote best practice, safety and honesty.
Where it is not possible to raise concerns directly with the individual, or where this has been attempted but did not result in the activity being discontinued, the concerns should be raised with the concerned member of staff’s line manager (this can be done informally through open discussion or formally through an arranged meeting or written document / email).
In most cases, the matter will be dealt with at this stage. The earlier concerns are raised, the easier it will be to for action to be implemented.
2.2 The staff member is unable to speak to their manager
If the staff member feels unable to raise the issue with their line manager, for instance if the concern relates to their line manager or if the line manager does not take appropriate action to resolve the issue, the member of staff should then approach their senior manager.
The organisation recognises that in some circumstances it may be appropriate for the member of staff to report their concerns to an external body. See Raising Concerns at Work: Whistleblowing Guidance for Workers and Employers in Health and Social Care.
If the member of staff decides to blow the whistle to someone other than their employer, they must make sure they have chosen the correct person or body for the issue. A ‘prescribed person’ can be a regulatory or legislative body, as well as an individual, who is independent of the organisation to which the whistleblower belongs but has an authoritative relationship with it. See Appendix 2 for list of Useful Organisations, including prescribed persons.
Please note: it will rarely, if ever, be appropriate to inform the media. Advice should first be sought from a prescribed person before reporting a concern to any such external body.
2.3 Action as a result of raising concerns
This will depend largely on the nature of the concerns raised.
In most instances the manager, or other person with whom the staff member has raised concerns, will arrange to meet them as soon as possible, away from the workplace if necessary. This is to enable the person to explain fully the nature of their concerns. The member of staff should be asked how they would want their concerns to be resolved.
Where appropriate, concerns that are raised may:
- be investigated by management, internal audit, or through the disciplinary process;
- be investigated under another procedure, for example safeguarding adults;
- be reported to the organisation’s standards or management committee / team;
- be referred to the police;
- be referred to an external auditor;
- form the subject of an independent inquiry.
Within 10 working days, the member of staff should receive in writing:
- an acknowledgment the concern has been received;
- an indication how the matter will be dealt with;
- where applicable, an estimate of how long it will take to provide a final response;
- information on staff support mechanisms;
- contact details of the designated contact person dealing with their concern.
If, during the investigation, the staff member is concerned about what progress is being made, requires support or reassurance, or feel they may be being victimised or harassed as a result of making the disclosure, they should raise this with the relevant manager/supporting organisation.
The designated contact should inform the staff member in writing of the outcome of their concern. However, this will not include details of any disciplinary action that may result, as this will remain confidential to the individual/s concerned.
Wherever possible, the matter should be addressed within 28 days of the member of staff raising the concern/s.
Please note: due to the likely sensitive nature of raising concerns at work, the member of staff should discuss the matter with as few people as possible.
2.4 The staff member does not agree with the outcome
If the member of staff does not agree with the way their concerns have been dealt with by local management, they may choose to escalate their concerns to senior management.
The staff member may otherwise feel it necessary to report their concerns to an external body, however this must be appropriate for the issue concerned. See Appendix 2, Useful Organisations for a list of prescribed persons.
3. Information for Managers
Managers are expected to develop and promote open and supportive communication.
They should lead by example, encourage team meetings to be environments for staff to air concerns, support training which promotes organisational values and empowers staff with the confidence to speak up and raise concerns.
3.2 When a concern/s has been raised
The manager must arrange to meet the person raising the concerns as quickly as possible to establish exactly the nature of the concern and understand what has given rise to it. The manager must:
- consider carefully where the meeting should take place and allow the person raising the concerns to be accompanied by an appropriate friend or colleague, if that is their wish;
- make a note of their conversations with the person raising the concerns and agree the accuracy of that note with them;
- be sensitive to the fact that the person concerned may feel uncomfortable about raising issues regarding a colleague or a manager;
- consider and address the support needs of the person who is the subject of the concerns and of the person raising them;
- prioritise the process of dealing with the issue remembering that, wherever possible, it should be addressed within 28 days of the matter being raised by the staff member.
See also Section 4, Confidentiality
3.3 Once concerns have been established
If the issue appears to be relatively minor and straightforward in nature, the manager may decide to resolve it informally and directly with the individual who is the cause of the concern/s.
If the issue appears to be complex or more serious, the manager must first consider whether any immediate action is necessary to protect the needs of co-workers, or adults with care or support needs. This may include referring the matter to their own manager, human resources, the police and/or initiating local safeguarding adult procedures.
Where appropriate, the member of staff raising concerns should be informed of the action taken.
3.4 Where the manager has no line management responsibility for the individual who is the cause of the concern/s
The manager must refer the matter to the appropriate manager with responsibility for the individual who is the cause of the concerns.
In considering who to refer the matter to, the manager should take account of the level of seriousness of the concerns and any reservations expressed by the person raising them about to whom they should be referred. Advice should be sought from senior management or Human Resources in the event of any uncertainty.
A record of concerns raised together with a record of action taken in response should be retained on the personal file of the staff member who raised the concern and, where appropriate, on the personal file of the staff member the concern was raised about. The length of time the record should be retained should be reviewed at regular intervals. The record on the file of the person complained about should exclude the identity of the staff member who raised the concern in cases where anonymity has been maintained.
It is preferable that a serious concern be raised responsibly rather than not at all. The organisation should when requested, therefore, respect the confidentiality of a member of staff raising a concern.
In some cases, confidentiality may not be possible, for example when reporting abuse or a criminal offence, as action may need to be taken.
Staff can be expected to be consulted if it does become necessary to reveal their identity.
If there is an unauthorised disclosure of someone’s identity, disciplinary action may be taken against that individual.
5. Protection and Support for Whistleblowers
Bullying, harassment or victimisation (including informal pressures) by other members of staff towards someone who raises a concern will not be tolerated. Retaliation may include:
- frequent and undesirable changes in work assigned;
- unsubstantiated disciplinary action;
- unjust denial of promotion or transfer.
Senior management should be vigilant and may need to take appropriate action to protect staff who raise a concern in good faith.
Staff must not threaten or take retaliatory action against whistleblowers. Anyone involved in such conduct will be subject to disciplinary procedures.
If a staff member believes they have suffered any such treatment, they should inform their manager – or suitable other person – immediately. If the matter is not remedied they should raise it formally through the organisation’s grievance procedure.
Appendix 1: Top Tips for Workers
Appendix 2: Useful Organisations
Blowing the whistle: list of prescribed people and bodies – is a list of the prescribed persons and bodies.
Public Concern at Work – a charity which provides free independent legal advice to staff and others who wish to raise concerns about the workplace.