The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on whistle blowers – set up in 2018 to expose existing problems, change the negative treatment of whistle blowers and suggest practical solutions to deliver enhanced protection in the UK – has published its first report. It includes evidence from whistle blowers about their experiences, an analysis of the existing issues and an exploration of what it calls the “personal cost of doing the right thing and the cost to society of ignoring it.”
The APPG findings are that employees who raised genuine concerns were too often faced with either “inaction or retaliation“. Over 75% of those interviewed stated that they had faced bullying, demotions, pay reductions, suspensions or forced dismissals for speaking out.
It also finds that the most prominent sector for whistleblowing is public health and social care, with 42% of respondents reporting cases related to this sector, followed by education (8.2%) and banking and finance (6.9%).
The report goes on to note that the remedies provided by the current Public Interest Disclosures Act (PIDA) are largely not understood; that a general legal obligation for organisations to set up mechanisms to protect whistle blowers is missing, whilst current whistleblowing law only looks at protecting whistle blowers after they have suffered detrimental treatment; the definitions of ‘whistleblowing’ and ‘whistle blowers’ are too narrow as they do not properly reflect current working practice or protect the public (all employees and workers are protected by PIDA, but not members of the public who raise health and safety concerns to an organisation); that policy and procedures often bear little resemblance to the actual practice in organisations; and the cost of litigation is too great for most people which is then exploited by employers who dismiss/mistreat whistle blowers knowing that the costs of going to Tribunal deter claims.
The APPG makes a number of recommendations on how to improve and update whistle blower protection:
– The term ‘whistle blower’ should be defined in law and the legal definition should include raising concerns about any harmful violation of integrity and ethics, even when such concern is not criminal or illegal.
– Whistle blower protection should extend to all members of the public, rather than just workers and employees, and include protection against retaliation.
– Mandatory internal and external reporting mechanisms should be introduced to include meaningful penalties for those who fail to meet the requirements.
– There should be a review of compensation and how it is calculated, as current levels are often too low.
– The prohibition of non-disclosure agreements in whistleblowing cases should be introduced.
– An ‘Independent Office for the Whistle blower’ should be established, with powers to enforce protections and administer meaningful penalties to organisations and individuals within organisations.
The APPG plans to publish two more reports: one covering regulators, government departments and trade unions; and the other taking the views of MPs, the Lords, the judiciary and journalists.