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We are pleased to see the Government give reassurance to whistleblowers raising concerns about Furlough Fraud.  Neither the proposed powers (in the Finance Bill) to recover money paid illegally through the scheme (formally called the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) nor fraud charges will be levelled at those who raise these concerns.

Background

Furlough fraud makes up 59% of the 510 Corona Virus related cases we’ve taken on the Advice Line since March 23rd.

HMRC have also seen thousands of concerns on the issue raised through their secure reporting channel.  A key area of advice whistleblowers ask for time and time again is their own liability if they are forced to work while being Furloughed.

We have previously written about how the typical Furlough Fraud situation revolves around the employer either asking or threatened employees to volunteer, help or just work while being part of the scheme.  This puts the employees in an almost impossible position where they have no power over the decision to be part of the scheme, and often little chance to refuse to work, as otherwise they may be fired or made redundant.

Whistleblowers publicly reassured

After sharing our concerns with Lord Wills he asked a Parliamentary question seeking reassurances that whistleblowers will not be pursued to repay illegal payments or prosecuted for fraud should they work while be furloughed. Lord Agnew of Oulton answering for the Government said:

‘In cases of fraudulent claims in respect of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, HMRC will seek to recover funds from the claimant employer.

Using powers that are before this House in the Finance Bill, where the employer is an insolvent company and an individual with management responsibility knowingly made an excessive claim, HMRC will be able to seek to recover funds from that individual.

Whistleblowers can be confident that HMRC will act to protect their confidentiality, and that they will not be liable for recovery. This does not include cases where the employer and employee conspire to defraud the scheme.’

The Government reassurances to whistleblowers, matches a similar commitment made to directors namely that honest mistakes would not be punished - prosecution will be focused instead on those who act dishonestly.   It appears that the Government’s statement means that Furloughed workers who raise concerns about their employer forcing them to work while being part of the scheme will not be pursued for the money paid to them.  It is the employer who commits the fraud, the employer who receives the payment, and the employer who should suffer any penalty.

Lord Agnew’s last point reminds employees that the act of whistleblowing does not protect them against any prosecution for their own wrongdoing.  There may be cases where employees are working with employers to defraud - but these are not the employees calling us.  We trust that whistleblowers who are working under threats from their employers will not be treated as co-conspirators. We would welcome clarification that anyone who raises a concern – whether internally with their employer, or externally with HMRC – will be exempt from any conspiracy charge.

More to do

We would now like to see HMRC commit to reopening the telephone reporting service so that whistleblowers looking to Speak Up about Furlough fraud can get reassurance from HMRC and information on the process.  This is especially important given the changes that have now taken place with the scheme which serves to increase the complexity of the arrangements.


Covid-19 is exposing good and bad practice when it comes to sectors who put employee welfare first and foremost. Unsurprisingly, retail is not leading the way, as highlighted by the quite shocking reports of working conditions of Boohoo suppliers in Leicester.

As the UK’s whistleblowing charity, we advise workers from all sectors. At the start of the pandemic our Advice Line was getting calls largely from health and care workers over issues such as lack of PPE, and carers being forced to go into work when unwell, but the majority of our calls have been over furlough fraud from the retail and hospitality sector – industries we did not have much engagement with pre-Covid-19.  The two sectors have made up 21% of 510 calls we have received regarding Covid-19 related concerns. [1]

Labour Behind the Label, who campaign for workers’ rights in the clothing industry, in its recent  report Boo-hoo and Covid-29, People behind the profit  say they too have received reports from workers alleging furlough fraud, as well as low wages, modern slavery, illegal opening of factories during lockdown and illegal denial of wages and benefits in Boohoo and other e-retailers. Worryingly, the report also states: ‘We have also heard of workers – positive for COVID-19 – being required to work throughout their sickness in order to fulfil orders…..  We have heard of several incidents, whereby workers who had tested positive were told to come into work, and of managers telling workers not to tell anyone else about positive cases.’

Big retail companies with healthy profit margins are in a position where they should be setting standards in terms of best practice, including whistleblowing.  This would mean insisting on having whistleblowing arrangements. So why isn’t it happening?

Good whistleblowing arrangements should apply not just to the employer, but also to workers in their supply chains.  If supply chain workers are comfortable to raise concerns, companies will benefit from being better informed about risks within the chain itself.

Responding to concerns raised in the supply chain e.g. reporting breaches of minimum wages, and modern slavery incidents is difficult.  Organisations will have to weigh up discussing the issues with the supplier/s or (as in the case of modern slavery incident) reporting it to an external body such as the police.  A particular difficulty lies in how to protect an individual whistleblower who raises concerns with them. A manufacturer who has received concerns from a supply worker who is not a direct employee, may find they are limited in what they can do in response to a worker being victimised for speaking up. The response we would encourage is for the large retailer to no longer work with suppliers who they credibly believe bend the rules. But brand, reputation and even profit aside, retailers need to ask themselves if it is morally acceptable on a basic human rights issue for retail manufacturers to turn a blind eye? With the public becoming so aware of basic human rights issues, as seen with #MeToo, BLM, we should all care about the real cost of fast fashion.

Encouragingly, there are some good examples of best practice in the area of supply chains. Shift is a non-profit centre for business and human rights practice, that works in collaboration with the Global Social Compliance Programme (GSCP), a business-driven program for the continuous improvement of labour and environmental conditions in global supply chains.

In its report, From Audit to Innovation: Advancing Human Rights in Global Supply Chains, Shift identifies many best practice examples as below:

Both H&M and Marks & Spencer are working with suppliers in China and Bangladesh in order to develop their management systems to track and analyse employee working hours – which can then provide the data for further analysis, operational efficiencies, and reductions in those working hours to acceptable standards

One H&M manager describing most audit processes as a ‘game of hide and seek’, during which suppliers did everything possible to hide problems from the company. The company had grown quite discouraged by the results of its audit program: while audits were catching the small infractions, they were missing the bigger picture issues; the program was failing to produce improvements over time; and its supplier base seemed uncommitted to making those improvements. Driven by a desire to create greater transparency, ownership and commitment from its suppliers, H&M’s new system is based on a philosophy of continuous improvement. The company conducts fewer audits, but the audit of each supplier is much more in-depth, lasting 6 days. The end result of each audit is a jointly developed 18-24 month workplan, based on shared prioritization of issues for improvement. Rather than conducting periodic follow-up audits, H&M follows up on progress made on the workplan. Suppliers have reported to H&M that ‘they now feel listened to, rather than just accused’, and that they now feel they ‘get credit for what they are getting right, not just what they are doing wrong.

Labour Behind the Label want the Government to ‘recognise that it is not only unscrupulous suppliers but also the lack of regulation of pricing and purchasing practices.’

Protect are calling on the Government to press ahead with a new Single Enforcement Body (SEB). The Government have committed to a (SEB) to protect worker’s employment rights with the powers to enforce 'the minimum wage, labour exploitation and modern slavery, along with holiday payments for vulnerable workers and safeguarding agency workers' which was announced with a consultation last year, which Protect responded to. Currently, enforcement is piecemeal and can be ineffective, meaning that neither workers nor compliant employers are well served.

The SEB should be made a ‘prescribed person’, as many regulators already are, including the Care Quality Commission, the Financial Conduct Authority, and the National Audit Office among many others.[2] This would enable those raising whistleblowing concerns to be protected from unfair dismissal for approaching the SEB. This measure would help to increase workers’ confidence in raising concerns by giving them enhanced legal protection.

Legislation has not been introduced so far, but the SEB is part of as part of the Government’s Good Work Plan. Protect will continue to push for the SEB to be brought in.

[1] The data ran from start of lockdown 23rd March 2020-3th July 2020.

[2] 43F of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

By Andrew Pepper-Parsons


Protect with the support of Slater & Gordon Lawyers has launched Silence in the City 2 (SITC2 2020), a new report examining whether whistleblowing culture within financial services organisations has improved following the introduction of Whistleblowing Rules by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). This blog will examine what employers can learn from the research.

Background: Whistleblowing Rules in the Financial Services

Since 7 March 2016, FCA has required regulated organisations to take a number of steps to develop their whistleblowing arrangements. SYSC 18 (also known as “the Whistleblowing Rules”), sets out minimum requirements for firms in a number of areas including the form internal whistleblowing arrangements should take as well as providing non-binding guidance to aide in the implementation of the rules. This research examined whether rules have made it easier for whistleblowers to raise concerns, improved the response to the wrongdoing raised and whether whistleblowers are treated better in the process.

For background here is a summary of the relevant rules for this research:

  • The appointment of a whistleblowers’ champion to oversee the effectiveness of the whistleblowing arrangements (SYSC 18.4.4)
  • Introduction of internal whistleblowing arrangements to handle all types of reportable concerns
  • A requirement to provide training for all staff and for managers receiving concerns (SYSC 18.3)
  • Communication to UK-based employees about the FCA and PRA whistleblowing services (SYSC 18.3.6)

Protect and Slater & Gordon conducted Silence in the City in 2012 (SITC 2012) to uncover the true experience of whistleblowing in the financial services sector. Our new Silence in the City 2 report (SITC2 2020) examines the lived experience of 352 whistleblowers who approached Protect for advice between January 2017-2019. SITC2 2020 directly compares these findings to those of the SITC 2012 report and examines whether whistleblowing culture has improved post implementation of the Whistleblowing rules.

Culture Change

The research has shown some real culture change in the sector which includes:

  • Greater trust and use of internal whistleblowing arrangements: Use of internal arrangements (including disclosures to line managers, Whistleblowing Champion, Directors, Chief Executive) has increased by 15% since our research in 2012, jumping from 78% (from SITC 2012) to 93% (SITC 2 2020).
  • Increased awareness of internal arrangements: 93% of whistleblowers were aware of their employer’s whistleblowing policy and 78% said they had either used the policy or were considering using it. This may be indicative of training that firms are required to provide to staff on how and where to blow the whistle (SYSC)
  • Whistleblowers are more persistent in raising their concerns: We saw a 10% increase in individuals trying to raise their concerns a second time if needed.[1]

Another aspect of the research that should give firms pause for thought is the rise in discrimination and harassment concerns being raised through the whistleblowing channels. 19% of the disclosures made related to legal or regulatory breaches and discrimination or harassment issues which made up 5% of the concerns raised, in 2012 discrimination and harassment did not feature at all in the research. We believe this could be a result of the increased profile such issues now have thanks to the #MeToo movement and steps that the FCA has taken in treating sexual harassment as a conduct issue under the SMCR regime[2]. It also reflects a situation where it might be more effective to use whistleblowing arrangements rather than grievances where the whistleblower is either a witness to the behavior or if they are victim but part of a wider cultural problem in their organisation.

The Gap between policy and practice

While SITC2 2020 demonstrates that firms have taken steps to put in place whistleblowing arrangements, the findings clearly show the void between what is written in the policy and the response from the firm.

  • 7 out of 10 whistleblowers experienced some form of victimisation: this includes bullying and harassment from managers or co-workers, suspension, dismissal or resignation
  • Most employers took no action to resolve victimisation: the research also shows that when the victimisation was reported to the employer, over half took no action (58%) and almost a quarter rejected the complaint (24%)
  • A third of whistleblowing concerns raised were ignored: in 33% of cases, the whistleblowers stated that the wrongdoing they raised was ignored by the employer.

SITC2 2020 mirrors findings found in the US where a recent study by George Washington University and the University of Utah examined nearly two million whistleblower reports from internal whistleblower systems. Report author Kyle Welch said, “If you have more reports, it is a good sign. It is very easy to lower reports, just change the hotline phone number and don’t tell anyone. The question you should ask when you have more reports is: Do we have enough resources to investigate the volume of information we are getting?”  Welch also advises companies to “benchmark your system for the volume of reports you receive. The only way to know if you are receiving enough reports is to get a benchmark study to see how similar firms in your industry did over the same time.”[3]

By failing to properly engage with the victimisation of whistleblowers, some of the positive cultural change we have seen around the use and trust of internal whistleblowing arrangements has been greatly undermined.

Conclusion – 4 things firms should consider doing

The advent of the whistleblowing rules has brought about positive change in the financial services sector, but firms have a long way to go to meet best practice in handling whistleblowers. It is important that senior leaders, championing a firm’s whistleblowing arrangements, put themselves in the shoes of a whistleblower and think about the protection and support they would want as a whistleblower. As firms move to bridging the gap between policy and practice, there are for things that they can consider doing:

  • Treat complaints of victimisation seriously and consistently: adopt a zero-tolerance approach to the victimisation of whistleblowers and ensure that complaints are dealt with through a consistent process. In larger organisations, you may want to address all complaints of victimisation through one central function (e.g. the whistleblowing team or HR) to ensure consistency. Make sure managers across your organisation, HR, the Whistleblowing champions are trained and are aware of what constitutes victimisation.
  • Discrimination and harassment issues maybe raised via whistleblowing arrangements: HR departments and managers need to be aware that whistleblowers appear to be using whistleblowing arrangements to raise discrimination and harassment issues so they must be able to spot when there is a cultural problem within a department or where there is pattern of behavior from one particular individual.
  • Benchmark and review: following the Whistleblowing Rules will not ensure firms have effective whistleblowing arrangements, review and benchmarking of arrangements will show gaps in way whistleblowers are dealt with in the whistleblowing system. Protect has developed a Benchmark framework to help your organisation reach best practice when it comes to whistleblowing standards.
  • Being proactive in communicating to whistleblowers: Whistleblowers feel ignored, communicate and seek feedback from whistleblowers telling them what action has been taken on the concerns and asking they feel victimised for raising the concerns. Being proactive in communicating with whistleblowers is key.

 

 

[1] 20% raised their concerns a second time in SITC1 while it stands at 30% in SITC2.

[2] https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/women-and-equalities/Correspondence/180928-FCA.pdf

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/josephbrazel/2020/06/11/study-provides-new-insights-about-internal-whistleblowing/


In the UK, certain regulators are recognised as ‘prescribed persons’ by the government, for example the Care Quality Commission and the Health and Safety Executive. Being a ‘prescribed person’ means that an organisation can be approached to receive and handle specific concerns, as listed online.

This matters for whistleblowers, as making a disclosure of information (i.e. blowing the whistle) to a prescribed person is an act which carries stronger legal protection than disclosing information to a body which is not ‘prescribed’.

The Prescribed Persons (Reports on Disclosures of Information) Regulations 2017, passed on 1 April 2017, imposed new rules: a duty on prescribed persons to publish annual reports on the whistleblowing disclosures they have received by 1 October each year.

Prescribed persons have a duty to report:

  • The number of disclosures received from whistleblowers
  • How many of these disclosures lead to a regulatory response/action
  • What action was taken, and the operational impact of this (e.g. if the information from the disclosure helped the prescribed person to perform it’s regulatory function)
  • A summary of the prescribed persons own functions and objectives

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

BEIS, who collate all the reports each January, have stated:

“The aim of this duty is to increase transparency … and to raise confidence among whistleblowers that their disclosures are taken seriously. Producing reports … will go some way to assure individuals who blow the whistle that action is taken in respect of their disclosures.”

However, BEIS also confirm:

“In collating these reports, BEIS has not assessed them for compliance with the duty. The legal obligation falls on the prescribed person to meet the annual reporting duty requirement.”

The Problem

The danger of introducing a duty and not even assessing compliance, far from enforcing it, is that this can bring the opposite of the desired effect – and reduce confidence in the regulatory system.

Our records show that almost three years on from the introduction of the regulations, almost a third of prescribed persons (32%) are not fully compliant with the reporting duty, and one in 20 have not published any of the information required by the duty. However, when prescribed persons do not comply with the duty to report, the government take no action for this breach of their duties; and it appears there are no plans to change this.

Without enforcement of the duty, how can confidence be built from the reports being published; how can a whistleblower be sure their concerns won’t be ignored, when over a third of all those prescribed don’t provide all the information that they are required to by law.

Protect are campaigning for a new law, which would enable whistleblowers to hold regulators to account if their concerns are ignored, or if their confidentiality is breached. Our new law would create a requirements for regulators to uphold set standards when it comes to handling and responding to whistleblowers. An oversight body, a Whistleblowing Commissioner, would be established, which would have powers to issue penalties if these standards are breached.

By Laura Fatah


The High Court has today handed down judgment and awarded whistleblower Amjad Rihan $10.8 m in damages against his former employer, Ernst and Young.

Protect Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner said: “We’re pleased to see this award to Amjad Rihan, who courageously blew the whistle on serious financial irregularities and who suffered career-long losses as a result. A whistleblower who had exhausted internal processes, he acted reasonably in bringing this global scandal to public attention via the media and the judge said he would have had a strong whistleblowing claim. His employer owed him a duty of care, and failed in that duty.

While this was not a claim under the whistleblowing law (The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 “PIDA”), nevertheless the judge took into account the principles of PIDA when assessing whether Amjad acted reasonably. We’re also pleased to see the judgment accepts that the public interest should not be constrained by what may be an offence in other jurisdictions. PIDA states that a disclosure is not protected if the whistleblower commits an offence in making it – but today’s judgment clarifies that should only apply to offences under the laws of Great Britain.


Advice to health workers thinking of using social media to raise concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Media reports of whistleblowers being gagged, dismissed or threatened with dismissal for speaking out publicly about issues in the global pandemic are worrying, and we at Protect have voiced these concerns in a statement saying how short sighted this approach is from employers.

A theme that has emerged in many of the reports is that whistleblowers have been dismissed, victimised or threatened by their managers after raising their concerns via social media.  A Tweet or a Facebook post about the lack of protective equipment or a lack of social distancing policies may bring the whistleblower into conflict with their employer.

Is a whistleblower legally protected if they use social media to raise concerns?

A whistleblower who is dismissed, forced out or victimised by managers or co-workers for using social media to raise concerns could be protected by the whistleblowing legislation the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA). Getting this protection is not straight forward as the legal tests a whistleblower would need to fulfil are the most stringent in PIDA when compared to situations where someone has raised concerns with either their employer or a regulatory body.

Disclosures to an employer

Raising the concern with the employer is the easiest way to get protection, the whistleblower simply needs to show:

  • They had a reasonable belief the concerns show a health and safety risk to any individual, or a breach of a legal obligation (which may include health and safety law) or one of the other categories of concern set out in the legislation.
  • They had a reasonable belief that raising these concerns was in the public interest (which generally means that they had a wider impact – not just on the worker themselves).

In both cases a reasonable belief means the whistleblower could be wrong about the concerns, e.g. after investigation, the concern itself did not endanger someone’s health and safety, but they would still be protected under law.[1]

Disclosure to a regulator

PIDA protects disclosures made to either a regulator or law enforcement body (the Government maintain a list of such bodies that fall into this category called the Prescribed Person list). Here the whistleblower would need to show reasonable belief in the concerns they were raising but on top of this they would need to show they reasonably believed what they were raising was ‘substantially true’.[2]

 Disclosures via social media

PIDA applies the same legal tests for protection to a social media post as would be applied to making a disclosure to a journalist or an organisation that is not a prescribed regulator (e.g. raising concerns about a lack PPE to health campaign group).

The whistleblower now needs to show that the social media post was a reasonable thing to do, in addition to showing they had a reasonable belief in the concerns, and a reasonable belief the concerns were ‘substantially true’.[3]

The legal tests are no longer based on the belief of the whistleblower at the time, instead, this is an Employment Tribunal deciding whether the social media post was a reasonable thing to do. PIDA outlines some key things a whistleblower would need to show:

  • they tried and failed to get the concerns addressed by their employer or a regulator
  • they reasonably feared victimisation if they raised the concerns with the employer or the regulator
  • they feared a cover-up (e.g. destruction of evidence) if they reported the concerns to their employer or a regulator
  • there is no regulator prescribed under PIDA to report the concerns to
  • the concerns are of an exceptionally serious nature

The key point is that for social media posts to be protected by PIDA requires a whistlebower to demonstrate that the disclosure was reasonable by showing that either they couldn’t raise the concerns else where or that they had tried, and this failed to get the concerns addressed.

In the immediate crisis, the Employment Tribunal may consider a whistleblower approaching the press as more reasonable than indiscriminate use of social media. Responsible journalists will be used to balancing the dual public interest of reporting on the crisis’ while avoiding spreading panic.  That said, there is case law that demonstrates what the Tribunal would consider  a concern “exceptionally serious in nature” that would warrant a disclosure to the media without approaching their employer or regulator first.  The case of National Trust vs Collins showed that Collins was justified in leaking a report detailing a chemical spill on a beach because the National Trust and the local council were too busy with a dispute over who was responsible for the clear up. During this time the public still had access to the beach, which posed a danger.

While PIDA doesn’t require a whistleblower to raise their concerns with their employer or a regulator first, it does require the whistleblower to have a compelling reason why they’ve gone down this path.

Is there a better place to raise the concerns?

The key question before using social media to raise any concerns is to ask yourself whether there’s a better place to approach first. Here’s an overview of those options:

Your employer

As well as having an easier path to protection under PIDA, a disclosure to the employer may get a quicker response to most concerns as they will be able to act on the concerns faster than a regulator, the media or a social media post.

Some options in the health service include:

  • As a first port of call speak with your line manager or supervisor
  • If you’ve tried to raise the concerns with your line manager or supervisor and they’ve been ignored, or for whatever reason you cannot raise it with your line manager or supervisor:
  • There are FTSUG (Freedom to Speak Up Guardian) if you work in England in certain NHS institutions.
  • With named contacts in your organisation’s Whistleblowing or Speak Up policy (see Protect’s webpage for information on raising concerns with your employer).  These can include directors, compliance personnel and board members.
  • Senior managers, directors, board members etc. who you trust or feel would listen to your concerns.

Raising the concerns internally first will not prevent a whistleblower from raising the concerns externally, whether that is a regulator, journalist or a social media post.

Regulators in the health service

If you do not feel that internal channels will be effective, or if you have already raised the concern internally, your next step may be to contact a regulator. Approaching a regulator with the concern comes with better protection and can still put pressure on an employer who has failed to take the concerns seriously.  When considering approaching a regulator look at our webpage on raising concerns with a regulator.

These are the regulators for the health service:

For concerns about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) the following bodies, though not a prescribed body, could be a good place to approach with concerns before contacting a journalist or using social media.  They include:

Contacting a journalist

Approaching a journalist may well be a better option than using social media to raise concerns even if they both come with the same stringent legal tests.  This is due to how a journalist can shield a whistleblower’s identity through protection of sources and use a whistleblower’s concerns alongside other material, such as disclosures from other whistleblowers to publish a story about the situation.

If you are considering contacting a journalist or raising your concerns in a social media post either contact us at Protect on 020 3117 2520 or send us an email through our contact  online form.  You can also get advice from your trade union.

By Andrew Pepper-Parsons

[1]S.c. 43B (1) (a)-(f) of the Employment Rights Act.

[2] S.c. 43F (1) b (ii) of the Employment Rights Act.

[3] 43G (b) and (d) the Employment Rights Act 1996


Gagging clauses have become quite the talking point thanks partly due to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo era and countless other news stories exposing their misuse. Controversial debate around the use of gagging clauses, or NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) and financial settlements to conceal sexual assault and harassment has tarnished the image of NDAs and highlighted their harmful impact of encouraging a culture of silence in cases of serious misconduct.

NDAs, sometimes referred to as confidentiality clauses or “gagging clauses” are written into a contract to stop information being disclosed. They serve a useful and legitimate role in employment contracts and settlement agreements. They protect commercially sensitive information and prevent employees sharing this information with their competitors.

However, there is increasing evidence these gagging clauses are being used unethically by some employers to intimidate whistleblowers, silence victims of harassment and discrimination, and conceal wrongdoing in the workplace.

But there are limitations to what can legally be ‘gagged’ by NDAs, which workers are often unaware of.

The current law on whistleblowing states any agreement which prevents a worker from whistleblowing, or making a protected disclosure is void ( s43J Public Interest Disclosure Act, PIDA, 1998,) but s43J has been hotly debated. NDA wording is often vague and contains no clear guidance as to how confidentiality clauses should be used and to what extent they should highlight the worker’s rights.

Protect has long been calling for NDA reform. A key ask in our Draft Whistleblowing Bill to reform PIDA is NDA reform. We want to see stronger and clearer wording to prevent the use of gagging clauses and a guarantee whistleblowers faced with a settlement agreement will get legal advice on any non-disclosure clauses.

A  Government Consultation March-April 2019 by BEIS  (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) concluded clauses being used to silence and intimidate victims of harassment and discrimination cannot be tolerated. Almost half (48%) of respondents had seen an example of a confidentiality clause that attempted to cloud a worker’s right to make a protected disclosure or overstretch the extent to which the information is confidential. The Consultation stated that it is important that workers understand their rights when they sign a confidentiality clause so they are not misled that they cannot disclose certain information. 83% of respondents agreed that confidentiality clauses should clearly highlight the disclosures that are not prohibited.

Protect suggested the following reforms to the law:

 

  • an exclusion in any NDA allowing for the disclosure of information about workplace harassment or discrimination to a regulator - not just the police - so wrongdoing that falls short of criminal conduct can be investigated and individuals held to account
  • improved advice for all employees: there is a very low awareness of employment rights around whistleblowing, as well as discrimination and harassment, and obscure wording around settlement agreements does not aid understanding• a standard document to be handed to all employees who sign a settlement agreement, explaining the limits of all confidentiality clauses in non-legalistic language

In our Draft Bill we address the lack of clarity of gagging clauses in settlement agreements by proposing clearer wording for s43J:

‘No agreement made before, during or after employment between an individual and an employer may preclude that individual from making a protected disclosure.’

Additional to this clearer wording is that any settlement agreement involving whistleblowing will have a clear statement saying that nothing in the agreement can stop the individual escalating the concerns, and certificate from an independent legal advisor explaining the requirements and limitations of the confidentiality clause.

We believe these provisions will make a whistleblower’s rights and responsibilities under a settlement agreement much clearer.

 

Blog written by Rhiannon Plimmer-Craig


Protect welcomes the launch of Dr Whitford MP’s private members bill – Public Interest Disclosure (Protection) Bill as an important step towards reforming the legal protection for whistleblowers.  Protect Acting Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner, said, “We’ve been calling for legislative reform as today’s whistleblowing law is out of date, so we are delighted that Dr Whitford has proposed her bill.  Her actions and the efforts of Baroness Kramer with her Office of the Whistleblower Bill, will put more pressure on the Government to reform whistleblowing laws in the UK”.

Dr Whitford’s bill proposes stronger enforcement of whistleblowing rights and a new independent body to set, monitor and enforce standards and to carry out its own investigations.

Protect have drafted their own proposals to replace the current whistleblowing legislation, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA).

Liz Gardiner said, “We look forward to seeing the detailed content of Dr Whitford’s Bill and then to working with all those who are committed to reforming the whistleblowing legislation.”


Amjad Rihan raised concerns about his employer laundering money and was branded a troublemaker and dismissed. Howard Shaw raised concerns about the Met Police’s interview process and was removed from his unit and faced unfounded disciplinary action. Shahmir Sanni blew the whistle on Vote Leave’s campaign tactics and was outed as gay by Downing Street and dismissed.

Under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, whistleblowers have the right not to suffer any detriment as a result of raising public interest concerns. Rihan, Shaw and Sanni should not have been victimised, bullied nor dismissed for taking the brave and difficult decision to raise workplace wrongdoing. The problem with the current legislation is that it only allows workers to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal once the detriment has occurred. By this time, it is often too late.

More needs to be done to stop victimisation at source before it occurs. Protect’s new draft Whistleblowing Bill aims to improve the law in this area.

Primarily, our draft Bill will place a positive duty on employers to actively take all reasonable steps to prevent detrimental treatment of whistleblowers or to stop detriment immediately if it begins to occur. This would mean employers would need to be far more proactive in terms of preventing managers, co-workers and third parties such as suppliers from retaliating against a whistleblower. This duty will mean that whistleblowing or speak up procedures can no longer simply be a “tick-box exercise”. Employers will need to demonstrate that they have effective measures in place.

This is so important because fear of victimisation can impact on the ability of concerned workers to raise their concerns. Our joint survey with YouGov from 2018 showed that 23% of working adults would not speak up due to fear of reprisals - the most common barrier preventing workers from raising concerns. This means that victimisation is dangerous for the whistleblowing culture of any workplace; if other workers are aware of colleagues being victimised for speak up, then this suppress future whistleblowing.  By compelling employers to consider and implement procedures to specifically prevent victimisation, whistleblowers will feel more confident about coming forward.

A 2017 study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners showed that fraud is more effectively detected by tip-offs than internal auditing. Furthermore, research from Stubben and Welch in the USA has shown that firms which actively use their internal reporting systems are more likely to address concerns before they become larger problems which means employers face fewer legal claims. This not only reduces litigation costs for employers but also lowers settlement amounts. A new duty on employers will not be a burden on good organisations but instead will offer a competitive advantage as it will punish organisations that do not take whistleblowing or speak up culture seriously.

This new duty offers great protection for whistleblowers, employers and the public more generally.

By Kyran Kanda, Protect Adviser

 


Protect Head of Policy Andrew Pepper-Parsons said: "It is good news for whistleblowers that the Government are proposing a crackdown on NDAs with new legislation to prevent the cover up of workplace harassment, discrimination and assault.

"Protect were invited to give evidence to both the Women & Equalities Select Committee and the Government's consultation on NDAs where we stated there is a need for clearer, plainer English surrounding NDAs, a stronger regulatory framework to tackle toxic workplace culture and a requirement for lawyers to explain the limits of NDAs on future disclosures.

It is important that any reforms are not narrowly focused on harassment and discrimination cases. The need for greater clarity in NDAs also applies to whistleblowing about other wrongdoing including reporting financial misconduct,safeguarding, environmental damage and so on.

We will be pressing the Government to use the opportunity of these reforms to simplify the language around the anti-gagging provisions in the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) so that all whistleblowers can feel more secure in blowing the whistle where they have signed a settlement agreement."