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5 Top Tips for Whistleblowers: Things to think about before saying something when you see something

These days we're seeing more media coverage about employers who have misused the furlough scheme and committed fraud, as well as those who aren’t following covid rules or taking proper health and safety precautions. 

Against this backdrop it’s easy to see how more people might find themselves in a situation at work where they need to speak up. 

This recent article in The Financial Times shows the difficulties faced by whistleblowers, so here are my 5 top tips for dealing with a situation when you're thinking about raising concerns at work.

Look at the legal side of things

In the UK, you can gain protection as a whistleblower if you satisfy the legal test. Firstly you must disclose information which you reasonably believe is in the public interest. You don’t have to be right about this information, as long as you have a 'reasonable belief' it's true. There is likely a public interest in the information if it affects people other than just yourself. 

Next, the information needs to tend to show certain types of wrongdoing, this includes criminal offences, failing to comply with legal obligations, miscarriages of justice, endangerment of health or safety, damage to the environment, or deliberate concealment of any of these things. If you’re not sure whether or not the information you have will meet this test then you should contact an employment lawyer.

Read any whistleblowing procedure

You should read any whistleblowing procedure that might apply to you and your employer. This should set out what happens when workplace concerns are raised, and what your employer’s usual process for investigation is.

If you’re in a regulated role you may also have obligations to report wrongdoing to the regulator, and you should look into what their procedure is. Their website is likely to provide helpful guidance. 

Work out who to report your concerns to

In most cases the person you report your concerns to will be your employer, even though in some cases your employer may already be aware of the concerns you're raising. 

Again, if you work in a regulated role then you may also be obliged to contact your regulator. 

Raising your concerns publicly on social media or in the press is unlikely to be the best route, especially in the first instance, and could mean that you're not legally protected. 

You should seek advice from an employment lawyer if you feel uncomfortable raising your concerns with your employer, and feel unsure about who to raise your concerns with.

Think about how best to report your concerns

You might decide to disclose your concerns all at once or over a period of time, and you might want to raise your concerns with more than one person. You should keep a good note of any oral discussions that you have when raising your concerns, and consider later following up by email. You could also keep a work diary.

You don’t have to put your concerns in writing, but it will be good evidence that you have raised your concerns, especially if this is later disputed. This also means that you can also be clear about what information you have raised with who and when, and could make it easier for you to show that you're a whistleblower. 

Be prepared for whatever happens next 

It normally takes a lot of bravery for someone to raise concerns about wrongdoing at work, and they can feel worried about what will happen next. 

You should be ready for your employer to ask you about the information you’ve raised. They may invite you to a meeting to discuss and ask you questions about it. They might tell you that they're going to investigate, in which case you're likely to want to respond, co-operate, and help them with this. 

If there's an investigation, then you should try to keep the tone of your communications measured and reasonable, even if you are frightened or emotional. Remember that you don’t want to do anything which could amount to a disciplinary issue.

If you're alleging that your employer or a colleague is involved in wrongdoing they could be upset by this. As a whistleblower you're protected if someone retaliates against you because of the concerns you have raised, by dismissing you or by subjecting you to some other form of unfair treatment. 

Keep in mind that if something happens at work that might give rise to a potential employment tribunal claim the timescales are short and you need to act on it within three months.

If you are experiencing issues like this or any other problems at work, then it's never too soon to get help and support with your employment rights - please feel free to contact us in confidence for an initial discussion. 

The scope for legal tactics to tip over into scare tactics comes into sharpest focus in debates over cost threats. The default in tribunals is that each side bears its own costs. However, employers can legitimately threaten costs against employees suspected of bringing cases maliciously or vexatiously and employees can threaten employers who mount baseless defences. Yet, while judges rarely impose costs, many “employers and their lawyers routinely threaten costs against whistleblowers to frighten them into dropping their claims or watering them down”, says Shah Qureshi, head of employment and professional discipline at Irwin Mitchell solicitors. ”