This week's informative guest blog comes from Kathy Pidgeon. Do click on the link at the bottom for more information.
I became aware of Public Concern at Work during my own experience of being victimised and hounded out of my job in the voluntary sector after raising some concerns about safety issues and accuracy of reporting to funders.PCAW are currently holding a public consultation http://www.pcaw.org.uk/Whistleblowing-commission-public-consultation and I am keen to contribute to this and would urge anyone else who has suffered detriment as a result of whistleblowing to do the same.
Many people do not consider themselves whistle blowers initially –they are just doing their job. E.g. in health and social care making the assumption that they are working to a common purpose for the good of the clients they may express concerns about how something is being done –its safety or impact on wellbeing of client. The employer often realises at this point that on-going bad practice/illegal activity/fraud is at risk of being exposed The ‘accidental whistle blower’ can then find themselves facing the start of the process to discredit ,victimise and bully ,hound them out of their job and silence them. The employer’s priority too often is to cover up and protect themselves and their cronies rather than address the issues. Boards often become complicit in this as they realise they have presided over an abusive regime or bad practice etc. The usual pattern is to discredit the ‘whistle blower’ often by spreading rumours about their alleged incompetence, trumping up charges against them, claiming they have mental health or personality problems There is frequently a subtle process of turning colleagues against them by making them think their jobs are at risk ,by offering rewards to them and not the WB, telling lies about the WB etc
The accidental whistle blower then starts to realise what is happening and might appeal against disciplinary action or raise a grievance that they are being victimised etc. but all this is investigated and judged internally so there is no chance they will succeed. The company/organisation has far greater financial resources as well as the other staff and board members, who by now fear for their jobs and/or reputations to back them and help them manipulate the situation in their favour as well as HR who are always ready to back the company that employs them rather than the target of abuse.
If the WB/target of bullying hangs on and fights the employer can always fall back on Some Other Substantial Reason (SOSR) to dismiss them using breakdown in relationship/trust +confidence. Any further attempts to defend their position is just seen as further evidence to this end + the target is so stressed by this time they will often agree to sign a compromise agreement (CA ) This is a contract terminating employment supposedly by mutual agreement that includes a payment to the employee in return for forfeiting their right to take any further action against the employer or tell anyone what has happened to them. The original issues they raised are not mentioned in this agreement so as far as anyone is concerned it was signed over employment issues. The employer has therefore successfully covered up their wrong doing and silenced the employee.
Robust whistleblowing policies should be in place everywhere stating that any concerns raised by an employee that could be considered whistleblowing need to be lodged either first or simultaneously with an independent body. If an employer then triesto discredit an employee/trump up charges against them etc. after this date or if an employee raises a grievance for bullying, victimisation after this date it would have to be investigated independently and externally. In these cases employers should not be allowed to use breakdown in relationships/trust and confidence as reason to dismiss an employee if legitimate, non vexatious, concerns have been raised and reported to an independent body.
The law and ACAS good practice as it stands makes it so easy for an employer to get rid of and silence a whistle blower or target of workplace abuse .Gagging clauses should never be legal except over business sensitive issues and client confidentiality. The ability to silence someone for raising concerns about patient/client/public safety leaves the way open for abuse of vulnerable people and bullying of staff to continue unchecked. To me it no different from allowing someone charged with domestic/child abuse to investigate themselves and silence anyone who has evidence of their guilt.