Covid-19 and whistleblowing

Andrew Pepper- Parsons, head of policy at Protect, writes about the importance of making sure charities stop wrongdoing during Covid-19.

Covid-19 has drastically changed the way in which we work. For charities employing key workers, there is now a heightened need for services to be delivered safely.  We know from our Advice Line, which supports people with whistleblowing, that this time of public emergency is giving rise to new concerns about keeping patients, customers and colleagues safe. Now more than ever, third sector senior leaders and managers need to go the extra mile to show staff they are supported, valued, and looked after.

Protect is the UK’s whistleblowing charity, and we handle around 3,000 cases each year through our free, confidential Advice Line. In addition, we train businesses and organisations on best practice speak-up arrangements.

Our Advice Line is receiving calls over Covid-19 issues. We have taken calls over the misuse of Furlough Leave, and from workers whose employers have wrongly identified them as key-workers and insisted that they continue to attend the workplace unnecessarily, as well as calls from workers without access to appropriate handwashing facilities or unable to keep social distancing.

Whistleblowing is the best early-warning system and charity key workers now more than ever staff need to feel safe and supported when they speak up and that issues are properly investigated and resolved. Protect has been working with a pilot group of charities to help improve their whistleblowing arrangements.

Charity chief executives and management should consider the following steps to ensure that staff can blow the whistle properly:

Building a positive speak up culture: Employers who have staff working from home/remotely should make sure that managers regularly touch base with staff and encourage them to raise any concerns that they have and make sure that managers are equally accessible to staff during working hours (via phone, email or video). Encourage your senior leaders to lead by example and drive this cultural shift by championing a good speak up culture.

Update your whistleblowing policy: Now is a perfect time to review and update your whistleblowing policy to make sure that it works for your organisation. Make sure you provide a number of clear channels for staff and volunteers to raise their concerns, including the details of senior staff including the Chief Executive and Chair of Trustees and regulators such as the Charity Commission. Make sure that your policy is in plain English and easily accessible online.

Test staff attitudes to whistleblowing: Organisations should make sure that they proactively engage with staff and ensure staff are aware of how and where to blow the whistle. Staff need to have trust and confidence in their organisation’s ability to handle their concerns. Why not take the time to test your organisation’s culture through online staff surveys, focus groups or listening exercises, all of which can be delivered remotely.

Train your staff : While training staff face-to-face may be difficult, e-learning and video conferencing make it possible to train staff even when they’re working remotely. Make sure that all staff across your organisation understand what whistleblowing is; how and where to raise and escalate concerns, the difference between whistleblowing and grievances and where they can get independent advice as a whistleblower. Make sure that managers listed within your whistleblowing policy are trained on their role and responsibilities. You may want to develop FAQs for managers which explains how they should handle the confidentiality and prevent the victimisation of whistleblowers.

Protect is calling on all third sector chief executives and senior leaders to share with volunteers – especially Covid-19 NHS volunteers – the importance of whistleblowing and raising concerns. At Protect, our motto is Speak up, to stop harm – and we ask the third sector to share this widely.

Protect is lobbying the Government to reform the current whistleblowing legislation, the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) and drafted a new Whistleblowing Bill which offers greater protection to more people, including volunteers.  

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