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Whistleblowing is when an individual reports suspected wrongdoing at work.

Whistleblowers are protected by law (the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998) and should not be treated unfairly or lose their job because they ‘blow the whistle’.

The whistleblowing legislation covers both employees and workers.

What counts as whistleblowing?

The types of wrongdoing that are covered under the whistleblowing legislation are:

  • a criminal offence, eg fraud
  • someone’s health and safety is in danger
  • risk or actual damage to the environment
  • a miscarriage of justice
  • the organisation is breaking the law, eg doesn’t have the right insurance
  • the whistleblower believes someone is covering up wrongdoing.

To be protected from detriment the law, the whistleblowing needs to be for one of the above reasons and it needs to be in the public interest, eg it affects the general public or (in some cases) a specific group of people or other workers. The whistleblower doesn’t need to be right in their concerns – the law still provides protection for concerns that subsequently prove to be unfounded.

Personal grievances are not covered by whistleblowing legislation, unless they are in the public interest and cover the areas of wrongdoing above. See our guidance on handling grievances.

Whistleblowing policy

You are advised to have a written whistleblowing policy. The policy should:

  • make clear the importance your organisation attaches to the identification and rectification of malpractice
  • define malpractice and identify the standard of conduct required of employees
  • specific to whom employees should report suspected malpractice
  • set out the mechanism for investigating alleged malpractice
  • allow whistleblowers, where possible, to disclose information in confidence and remain anonymous
  • stress that no disciplinary action will be taken against whistleblowers in respect of disclosures made in good faith
  • explain that employees should only approach an external prescribed person or body (such as the Health and Safety Executive or the Pensions Regulator) if they believe their concern was not taken seriously or the wrongdoing is continuing. You can see the list of prescribed people and bodies on the GOV.UK website.
  • explain that employees should not contact the press, as this is not a prescribed person or body and that if they do contact the press, they could be subject to disciplinary action.

NCVO members can download an editable example whistleblowing policy.

Further information

Page last edited Apr 05, 2022

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