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Whistleblowing reports rose by a quarter last year

Calls to the advice line for whistleblowing charity Protect increased by 23% in 2023.

Callers reported feeling unsupported by their employer after raising a whistleblowing concern, with 73% saying that they faced victimisation or felt forced to resign.

For 41% of callers to the charity, their whistleblowing concern had been ignored by their employer, and 15% reported that their employer had told them that their whistleblowing concern wasn’t valid.

Most calls (30%) came from health and social workers – a 48% rise from the previous year – while 15% came from the education sector and 7% from financial services.

Elizabeth Gardiner, chief executive of Protect, told HR magazine that due to high-profile cases of whistleblowers in the media over the past year, there has been a cultural shift in acceptance of whistleblowing.

Read more: UK employers slack on whistleblowing training

She said: “Public opinion is often ahead of employers here: the high profile of whistleblowing has been accompanied by a renewed respect for those calling out wrongdoing and acting in the public interest.”

Gardiner emphasised that it is in employers’ interest to encourage employees to speak up.

She said: “Whistleblowers can provide a vital early warning system; all organisations should have whistleblowing reporting channels in place, to ensure they hear from their workforce about wrongdoing, risk and malpractice.”

She noted that employers must also ensure that they act on the concerns raised by whistleblowers.

Gardiner continued: “It’s also essential that an organisation’s whistleblowing policy emphasises the importance of protecting the identity of whistleblowers.

“Confidentiality helps protect the whistleblower from victimisation, and contributes to building trust in the system.”

Pete Cooper, director of people partners and DEI at the HR software business Personio, explained that employers could go further by fostering a trusting, transparent culture to ensure that misconduct is reported appropriately.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “That means creating a psychologically safe environment where employees can voice their concerns without fear of reproach, knowing that they will be listened to and treated fairly.

Read more: How (not) to handle disclosures by whistleblowers

“This is critical to ensuring that employees have a way to safely report issues. Many don't feel safe doing this in person or with their name attached to the report, for fear of reprisal.”

Cooper pointed to research by Personio from September 2023 that found 91% of UK employees are concerned about retaliation against whistleblowers.

He continued: “The ramifications of not getting this right are clear. Not only is it an economic and reputational issue but, more crucially, these organisations put the safety of their people, customers and business at risk.”

Naeema Choudry, partner at law firm Eversheds Sutherland, told HR magazine that there is currently no legal obligation in the UK for employers to investigate a whistleblowing request.

But not doing so could lead employees to raise concerns to an external regulator or the press, which could result in reputational damage, she continued.

She said: “An employee who is subsequently dismissed or subjected to a detriment for having made certain types of whistleblowing complaints would be able to bring a claim in the employment tribunal.”

Choudry added that employers should seek to protect the identity of complainants where possible, unless there is a legal obligation to reveal details.