UK: Half of whistleblowers ‘dismissed or forced to resign’

Research shows people who raise concerns at work are commonly victimised.

Eighty per cent of ‘whistleblowers’ suffer reprisals at work, with 50 per cent saying they were either forced to resign or dismissed following their claims, according to research from the charity Public Concern at Work (PCAW).

The survey of more than 2,000 working adults, found that only 33 per cent of employees who identified themselves as whistleblowers said they had received a positive reaction when they raised concerns. However, in more than half of cases (52 per cent), respondents said that their employer had either denied or ignored concerns raised.

PCAW policy officer Andy Parsons said that responsibility for improving this situation lies with HR.  “What this research is telling us is that employers – that is HR – do not have the policies and procedures in place to handle whistleblowing properly,” he said. “This includes knowing which best practice policies to follow. Whistleblowers are protected by law, so if HR is dismissing people, they shouldn’t be doing that without proper reason.”  He added: “What HR professionals should be doing is making sure there is a culture of protecting all who raise concerns, including reassuring those that are minded to raise concerns, that their issues will be supported and acted upon by those at the very top of the organisation.”
The research shows that despite the victimisation whistleblowers suffer, there is still a substantial appetite to speak out – 81 per cent of respondents to the research said they would raise a complaint if they felt it was necessary. Parsons says this is why HR departments should set a proper framework for dealing with complaints, rather than brushing it under the carpet.  He said: “Good employers should see whistleblowing as an early warning system about areas of concern in their business. The more whistleblowing becomes normalised – and is simply a process for referring improvements – the less people see it as dramatically ‘unmasking’ improper processes.

Our research shows a lot of people who ‘blow the whistle’ don’t actually see themselves as campaigners. They’re just normal people who want to raise a small concern.”  He added: “We also know that when firms do implement fair whistleblowing processes, it acts as a deterrent to other bad practice happening, because colleagues won’t want to be investigated.”  By embracing whistleblowing as a normal workplace practice, Parsons said firms avoid the negative PR, and potentially large fines, if they are exposed as a business trying to cover up malpractice or found to have bullied staff for coming forward. In March this year, Corby Borough Council paid an out-of-court settlement to its head of property, Steven Redfern over his whistleblowing experience. Redfern claimed he had been “harrassed, threatened, undermined and belittled” for raising concerns over “unethical” land deals. He initially lodged a claim for £1million in damages to the High Court.

An official report into whistleblowers by Sir Robert Francis earlier this year also revealed thousands of NHS staff had been subjected to intimidation at work for raising concerns about patient care.  The PCAW research showed that although more companies have a whistleblowing policy than in 2013, the number that do is still less than half (48 per cent) of organisations.  It also found that 67 per cent of workers were unaware whistleblowers are protected under law.

CIPD – the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

3 August 2015