1st July 2015

EIGHT in ten whistleblowers have been victimised at work - with half being fired or losing their jobs, a survey shows.

And in more than one in two cases the employer's response was to deny or ignore the concern, according to the study.

The top issue being raised was financial malpractice (18%), followed by ethical concerns, while more than a fifth (22%) of complaints related to the education sector.

The research based on a review of calls to Public Concern at Work's advice line last year found 1,876 individuals contacted the charity on a workplace whistleblowing matter in 2014, a 15 percent rise compared to 2012.

There were 340 calls about financial malpractice and 334 calls about ethical concerns.

The public sector made up 39% (636) of calls in last year and the private sector 52% (838) of calls. Education produces the most (22%) followed by the care sector (17%) and the health sector (16%). When combined they make up 55% of calls to the advice line.

The report said 50 percent of whistleblowers reported being dismissed or resigned after raising their concern. A further 28% were bullied by co-workers or victimised and/or disciplined by their employer.

It said: "This means almost 8 out of 10 whistleblowers suffer some sort of reprisal after raising a concern."

Just sixteen percent of whistleblowers reported a positive outcome, including being thanked by their employer or their workplace improved after they raised their concern.

Whistleblowers from the education sector were most commonly calling about ethical concerns (28%) including exam malpractice, nepotism, cronyism and breaches of data protection or confidentiality. Public safety concerns were the second most common concern (25%) from the education sector.

Forty-nine percent of callers from the care sector were concerned about abuse of a vulnerable person. Patient safety and public safety were the second (14%) and third (10%) most common concerns, respectively. Fifty percent of whistleblowers in the health sector were concerned about patient safety.

PCaW said when compared with a YouGov poll of more than 2,000 adults commissioned by the charity there is "a stark and widening gap" between the way whistleblowing is perceived and the reality for whistleblowers on the ground.

Three quarters of British workers see the term 'whistleblowing' as either neutral or positive praise when asked to rate it on a scale from one to ten.

In the last two years, just over one in ten (11%) said they had a concern about possible corruption, danger or serious malpractice at work that threatens them, their employer, colleagues or members of the public. Of those, over half (59%) raised their concern with their employer.

Eight in ten said would raise a concern about possible corruption, danger or serious malpractice at work and almost half said their workplace had a whistleblowing policy. But two thirds are either unaware there is a law that protects whistleblowers, or believe there is no legal protection.

PCaW chief executive Cathy James said: "While the perception of whistleblowers in society is increasingly positive and when asked hypothetically our respondents thought they would to do the right thing, we are seeing that more staff are unwilling to speak up.

"This must, in part, be due to the lack of awareness around legal protection and the fact in reality whistleblowing is still a risky activity for a large number of our clients."

She added: "Past studies suggest British whistleblowers differ from their American counterparts in that their greatest fear is not of reprisal, but the fact their concern will be ignored. It is encouraging to see more whistleblowers are seeing their concerns acknowledged, admitted, investigated or resolved.

"Although the improvements we are seeing in the way that the concern is being handled are welcome, these findings must be interpreted in the broader context of how the whistleblower is being treated.

"It is unacceptable almost eight out of ten whistleblowers contacting our advice line suffer some sort of reprisal for raising a concern. It is clear much work must be done by organisations to inform, inspire and celebrate workers when it comes to whistleblowing.

"Civil society also has a role to play – to this end PCaW has developed a new elearning programme for workers and continues to provide training and consultancy to organisations. Together we can change this narrative and bridge the gap between what is increasingly a positive perception of whistleblowing and the difficult reality that many whistleblowers experience."

See here for our report and here for our press release.