WHISTLEBLOWERS regularly hit the headlines for lifting the lid on wrongdoing in the workplace – often exposing shocking truths.
But what does the term actually mean, and what rights do workers have to raise a flag whenever they witness illegal, neglectful or dangerous acts?
What is a whistleblower?
A whistleblower is a worker who reports certain types of wrongdoing to the authorities.
Whistleblowers are protected by law to stop them being treated unfairly or losing their job because they “blew the whistle”.
The term is thought to have appeared around the 1970s, as a reference to when a referee blows the whistle during sports to indicate a foul.
Concerned workers can raise their concerns at any time about an incident that happened in the past, is ongoing, or they believe will happen in the near future.
Whistleblowers are protected by UK law if they report a criminal offence, a health and safety violation, risk or damage to the environment, or a miscarriage of justice.
They are also protected if they believe someone is covering up wrongdoing.
What law protects whistleblowers?
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 protects employees who make disclosures of certain types of information.
Before this whistleblowers in the United Kingdom had no protection against being dismissed by their employer.
A series of high-profile financial scandals and workplace accidents led to the law’s creation.
What should you do if you’re treated unfairly because of whistleblowing?
You can take a case to an employment tribunal if you’ve been treated unfairly because you’ve blown the whistle.
You can get further information from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), Citizens’ Advice, the whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work or your trade union.
If you reported your concern anonymously, you may find it harder to argue that your unfair treatment was as a result of your whistleblowing.
You must raise any claim of unfair dismissal within three months of your employment ending.
The UK Government has a handy advice website here.
Which organisations have policies?
It is up to individual companies whether they have whistleblowing policies.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has rules which aim to encourage a culture in which individuals raise concerns and challenge poor practice and behaviour at banks, building societies
and credit unions.
The NHS has a policy that encourages staff to raise any issues of patient care quality or safety called Freedom to Speak Up.