The scandals last year involving Oxfam raise issues for charities and their duty of care to employees. Employees often raise day to day issues but sometimes those issues can be unexpected, concerning and cause high reputational risk.
The Employment Rights Act 1996 protects employees who “blow the whistle”. This means that if they raise an issue that is likely to be a breach of their employer’s legal obligations then they are protected from being treated to their detriment or being dismissed as a consequence.
For example, you’re a charity working with vulnerable adults and the elderly. An employee raised that staff are not maintaining the correct client to employee ratio. In fact, some days one employee will take the day off whilst one employee will be looking after multiple clients. This is concerning in relation to your legal obligations to deliver care but equally worrying for health and safety.
You may feel that this doesn’t necessarily apply to your organisation but there could be similar situations in relation to finances, fundraising from trusts and designated restrictive funding, trustee’s obligations etc.
If this employee raises such an issue, it is incumbent on you to investigate the matter. It is important that you investigate this matter in an even handed way and do not prejudge the outcome.
This is different from the employee raising a grievance about their own issues because whistleblowing means there must be a wider public interest issue. This means that by their nature any whistleblowing will have wider implications for a charity. It is vital that you ensure that any issues are investigated and put right if necessary.
In summary, the key issues with whistleblowing are to ensure that you take this seriously to ensure that it protects your organisation in the long term by way of reputation. You also protect your employees by adopting a robust process around their disclosure.
If you are a charity that is worried about a potential whistleblowing issue or a person considering whistleblowing and need advice please contact Claire Merritt.
If you need any other legal advice please visit our Charities service page to find out how else we can help you.