On 2 November the whistleblowing charity, Protect, published a report on the treatment of COVID-19 whistleblowers. The report is based on 638 COVID-19-related cases about which the charity’s advice line was contacted. It revealed that, of those 638 cases, 20% of employees who raised concerns about either COVID-19 safety measures in their workplace or fraud in relation to the furlough scheme were dismissed.
The report also stated that 41% of the employees who raised such concerns were simply ignored by their employers. Where concerns were raised by key workers in the health and care sectors, just 10% of those whistleblowing concerns were investigated.
The data suggests that those in management roles were more likely to lose their jobs than those without management responsibilities, with 32% of managers raising those complaints being dismissed compared to 21% of non-managers.
The report also found that in 90% of cases reported to Protect which involved alleged furlough fraud, employees raised their concerns with their employer before whistleblowing to the regulator. It is an on-going challenge for employers to ensure that employees do not (even with the best intentions) perform any work whilst on furlough. However, this data tells us that many employers are being given the chance to scrutinise practices again, and address any issues, before a HMRC audit (and where necessary make a repayment without enforcement action having been taken by HMRC). We recommend that employers seize those opportunities.
The report includes anonymised case studies by way of example. In one, a care home employee raised concerns that a COVID-19 outbreak at the home had been badly handled, which had resulted in the death of at least one resident. The employee reported this to the management of the care home and the Care Quality Commission, following which he was allegedly bullied by senior management, his concerns were not investigated, and he was dismissed on the grounds of poor conduct.
The report recommends that a legal standard is placed on employers to ensure that they have whistleblowing procedures, and that employers should be required to give feedback on the issues raised to the whistleblower. It is suggested that this should be coupled with a penalty framework, with fines for employers who do not conform to the whistleblowing standards.
The full report can be read here.