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Tricky issues in whistleblowing

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Different types of concern

A whistleblowing concern is when a person witnesses an issue or risk that affects someone other than themselves.They may see that a charity's intended beneficiary is directly affected by an act or decision within their organisation or that the organisation has a serious safeguarding issue which they are not addressing. 

WestEnd Youth Club has been open for 25 years providing safe spaces for children and young people in their area. Sheila is the cleaner at the centre. She notices that a Youth Worker is smoking cannabis whilst working with children. She has raised this with her manager but is told that “these things happen” and she believes it is carrying on as she can smell cannabis sometimes. She is worried that children could be harmed. She decides to approach a Trustees of the Charity directly but asked for her name not to be mentioned. 

A grievance is a complaint made by a staff member about behaviour which affects them directly.

EastEnd Community Centre provides a range of services for the local community. Samira is a  receptionist at the Centre and worked there for three months. She finds her manager Allan very angry and often upsetting. He regularly yells and screams at her for being too slow and not looking professional enough. He has started to use offensive language at her and telling her she should be grateful to him that she still has a job. Samira raises this behaviour with the Head of HR as a grievance

 A volunteer problem is a complaint made by a volunteer about behaviour by staff, other volunteers or anyone they work with which affects them directly.

SouthEnd Disability Action is a small user-led organisation of disabled people campaigning about rights violations and discrimination in their area. They provide a range of information and advice services for disabled people. Steve is a volunteer in the group who feels that he is being treated unfairly by a staff member Stuart. He does not feel that he is treated with respect and often left out of discussions. He approaches the group manager using their Volunteer Problem Solving Procedure. 

Legally grievance, volunteer problems and whistleblowing or raising concerns are different. Even in a small organisation, it’s important to understand the differences so you can provide the right kind of support. Your policies must make this clear for everyone.

Reporting openly, confidentially or anonymously?

You should always encourage people to raise concerns openly. If you know who’s raised a concern, it’s easier to investigate it. It’s also easier to protect that person from being victimised. If your procedures are strong, people will be more confident in speaking out openly.

You must give people the option of reporting confidentially.  This is when the person raising the concern gives their name, on the basis that it won't be revealed without their consent. You must stick to this promise and investigate. 

You must also give staff and volunteers the option of raising a concern anonymously. This is when the person reporting doesn’t say who they are. When this happens, it’s harder for an organisation to investigate, as it can be difficult to get any further information. However, it may be the only way some people feel confident to speak up. 

When you write your policy you should be aware of these differences. You should use the policy to encourage people to raise concerns openly or confidentially, but you should also make it clear that anonymous reporting is an option.   

Staff and volunteers who are receiving reports must understand these differences. They must also understand how to maintain confidentiality. 

SevenOaks is an adult social care provider. They have worked hard to inform all staff and volunteers of their approach to whistleblowing and how it helps build a space that is safe for everyone. Jane notices that a colleague is not following the correct procedures when providing personal care. Jane shares this concern confidentiality to her line manager. The following week the line manager runs refresher training for the whole team on providing personal care.  

What if a whistleblower has an agenda?

Sometimes people suspect whistleblowers have a personal goal in whistleblowing. You might be concerned they have a personal grudge or political motivation. This should never stop you and your organisation from taking their concern seriously. You must always investigate thoroughly and you should never punish or victimise the whistleblower because of your suspicions.

There is only one case where whistleblowers should be criticised for their actions. If, after investigation, you discover someone raised a concern knowing it was untrue, then this is considered a malicious action. Situations like this are rare and should be handled carefully, confidentially and often with legal guidance.

Frestfield provides shelters and hostels for homeless people. Frank has recently been promoted as Support Manager at Frestfield leading their advice team. Within a few weeks of him starting a whistleblowing concern is raised stating that he is stealing food. An independent investigation is raised which demonstrates that this is untrue. The person raising this concern admits that it was untrue and they did it as they were jealous Frank was promoted. 

Next steps

This guidance was produced in consultation with Protect.

Page last edited Oct 03, 2019

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