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.
Speak Up – free, independent, confidential advice on the speaking up process
September 2022: This chapter has been reviewed and updated throughout. Links to sources of support and advice for staff who have concerns have also been added. See above and the appendices.
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Information for Concerned Members of Staff
- 3. Recording
- 4. Protection and Support for Whistleblowers
- Appendix 1: Advice for Workers
- Appendix 2: Useful Organisations
Whistleblowing, or raising a concern, is where a worker (an employee, former employee, trainee, volunteer, agency worker or member of an organisation) reports a wrongdoing to their employer or another relevant organisation. Any wrongdoing reported in this way must be in the public interest. This means it must affect others, for example the general public.
Such wrongdoing may specifically relate to:
- criminal activity;
- a miscarriage of justice;
- danger to the health and safety of any individual;
- damage to the environment;
- a failure to comply with any legal obligation; and / or
- the deliberate concealment of any of the above matters.
There is a difference between a member of staff raising a concern / whistleblowing and making a complaint or grievance. A grievance or private complaint is about a person’s own employment position and there is no public interest element in this. For example, a worker may raise a grievance against a colleague for breaching their confidentiality. Organisations will have a specific grievance procedure to cover such situations. This is not whistleblowing.
Adults who use services, their relatives or members of the public can also make complaints about staff or services. They can do so by making a complaint to the organisation using their complaints procedure, or something to another body such as the Care Quality Commission for example (see Section 2.1 Raising a concern). This is not whistleblowing.
Legal protections for whistleblowers mean that no one acting in good faith when raising a concern will be penalised for doing so (See Section 4, Protection and Support for Whistleblowers). Any attempt to victimise employees for raising genuine concerns or attempts to prevent such concerns being raised should be regarded as a disciplinary matter.
However, 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 concerns are well founded (although they should have reasonable grounds for their concerns);
- 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 How to raise a concern
A worker can blow the whistle to their employer following the guidance in their local whistleblowing policy or to a “prescribed person or body”. Employers should investigate concerns reported to them thoroughly, promptly and confidentially. The person who has raised the concern should be told how the concern will be dealt with and provided with a timescale for a response.
A prescribed person or body provides staff with a way to raise their concern with an independent body when they do not feel able to disclose directly to their employer. When reporting concerns to a prescribed body, it must be the one which deals with the type of issue being raised, for example a disclosure about possible wrongdoing in a care home can be made to the Care Quality Commission. See Whistleblowing: list of prescribed people and bodies (gov.uk)
Workers can also report concerns to a third party such as a professional body or a member of the press. This is known as a ‘wider disclosure’. This type of disclosure must meet tougher tests in order for it to be protected, than a disclosure made to an employer or prescribed person or body.
2.2 Reporting concerns anonymously or confidentially
Concerns can be raised anonymously, but the employer or prescribed body may not be able to take the claim further if they have not been provided with all the information they need.
Whistleblowers can give their name but request confidentiality – in this situation, the person or body you tell should make every effort to protect the person’s identity.
2.3 Action as a result of raising concerns
This will depend largely on the nature of the concerns raised; the most likely outcome is that the concern will be investigated by staff within the organisation.
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.
Where possible, within 10 working days, the member of staff raising the concern 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 designated contact /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.
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.
A record of concerns raised together with a record of action taken in response should be provided to the staff member who raised the concern.
4. Protection and Support for Whistleblowers
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 provides legal protection against detriment for workers who raise concerns in the public interest.
Bullying, harassment or victimisation (including informal pressures) by other members of staff towards someone who raises a concern will not be tolerated.
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: Advice for Workers
Online tool to help employees decide how to raise their concern – Employees Online Tool for Raising Concerns, Whistleblowing Hotline Speak Up.
Appendix 2: Useful Organisations
Whistleblowing: list of prescribed people and bodies – contains a list of the prescribed persons and bodies.
Protect; Speak up, Stop harm – a UK whistleblowing charity which provides free independent legal advice to staff and others who wish to raise concerns about the workplace.