Yesterday, the report from Dame Janet Smith into the BBC’s culture and practices during the Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall years were produced. Amongst other things, the report found that staff were reluctant to speak to managers about complaints and that senior managers were not told of complaints due to an “atmosphere of fear”.
This has raised the question of the extent to which employees are protected if they wish to make disclosures to their employer about the conduct of others, which may amount to criminal conduct.
Speaking about this issue on Radio Scotland, Giles Woolfson explained that we have moved on from where we were in the 1970s and 1980s as there is now statutory protection for whistleblowers. This means that whistleblowers are protected from detrimental treatment at work, which can include dismissal, if they make a “protected disclosure”. A protected disclosure is one which is made by a person to their employer, or a relevant third party, and which is in the public interest and which, in the reasonable belief of the person, tends to show one or more of the following:
- a criminal offence,
- a failure to comply with any legal obligation,
- a miscarriage of justice,
- health and safety of an individual being endangered,
- the environment being damaged, or
- information that any of those matters is being deliberately concealed.
However, Giles also explained that in his view there is often a difference between the protection which the law gives on the one hand and the practice of organisations on the other. Employers will often have in place various policies and procedures designed to protect employees at work,such as whistleblowing, bullying, harassment and equal opportunities. The problem is that often there is very little, if any, training from management to explain exactly what these policies mean and there often lacks a strong message that the policies will be implemented and that any behaviour contrary to the policies will not be tolerated.
Therefore, the message for employers is clear: ensure that you have the relevant policies and procedures in place, and ensure that all staff are provided with the necessary training so that they are aware, and see directly from management, that these policies will be adhered to and implemented. Employees need to know that they should not be in any way fearful of raising concerns about the conduct of another person. This applies not only to the type of conduct and abuse addressed in Dame Janet Smith’s review, but also other forms of conduct, such as financial malpractice, discriminatory conduct or harassment on the grounds of age, race, religion, sex, disability or sexual orientation. The basic guiding principle should be that all employees are treated with dignity and respect at all times.
To hear Giles Woolfson speaking with Stephen Jardine on this issue on Radio Scotland, please click here
If you have any questions or concerns about the issue of whistleblowing at work, we are able to advise on this and any other aspect of employment law. You can contact us on 0141 221 4488 or visit our homepage.