Home > Subjects > Employee relations > Whistleblowing
Communication and consultation
Originally issued in March 2000; latest revision February 2007
This factsheet gives introductory guidance. It:
outlines the legislation concerning whistleblowing
gives guidance on procedure
includes the CIPD viewpoint.
What is ‘whistleblowing’?
Most people will have heard of 'whistleblowing' from the high-profile cases reported in the media.
Whistleblowing occurs when an employee or worker provides information, usually to the employer
or a regulator, which has come to their attention through work. The whistleblower is usually not
directly, personally affected by the danger or illegality. Whistleblowing occurs when a worker raises
a concern about danger or illegality that affects others, for example members of the public.
The legal position
The key piece of whistleblowing legislation is the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) which
applies to almost all workers and employees who ordinarily work in Great Britain. Other relevant
Acts and Statutory Instruments include:
Police Reform Act 2002
Employment Rights Act 1996
Employment Rights Act 1996
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/3242)
Public Interest Disclosure (Compensation) Order 1999 (SI 1999/1548)
Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons) Order 1999 (SI 1999/1549)
Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons) (Amendment) Order 2003 (SI
Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons) (Amendment) Order 2004 (SI
Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons) (Amendment) Order 2005 (SI
Various whistleblowing guidance is available for example from the Department of Trade and
Industry and the charity Public Concern at Work (see Useful contacts below).
CIPD members can find out more on the legal aspects, including the protection the law gives to
whistleblowers, from our FAQ on Whistleblowing in the Employment Law at Work area of our
Go to our Whistleblowing FAQ
What are the benefits of establishing a whistleblowing procedure?
Employees may have a lot at stake when considering whether and how to blow the whistle. Where
malpractice is shown to have occurred, this may reflect badly on management systems, or on
individual managers. Whistleblowers may fear that management will be tempted to 'shoot the
messenger'. A clear procedure for raising issues will help to reduce the risk that serious concerns
are mishandled, whether by the employee or by the organisation. But it is also important for
workers to understand that there will be no adverse repercussions for raising cases with their
The accounting scandals at Enron and Worldcom have underlined the damage that fraud and
business malpractice can cause. They also highlight the need for organisations to see that
whistleblowing procedures are in place and supported by the management culture. Business
ethics are increasingly seen as an issue that can build or destroy a company's reputation. If public
trust is withheld, the business consequences can be extremely serious.
Many organisations have reported a positive benefit from their whistle blowing procedures 1. For
example, the Treasury’s Annual Fraud Reports record a marked increase in the number of
Whitehall frauds discovered and stopped by staff raising concerns following the introduction of
whistle blowing policies since the PIDA came into force. The cost-benefit analysis section of the
Financial Services Authority’s policy paper2 concludes that respondents all agreed that the costs in
implementing or reassessing whistleblowing procedures were minimal. The benefits were
described by one respondent as hard to quantify, but significant for the business of any regulated
firm. One respondent stated that it was ‘easy to see that effective in-house whistleblowing
arrangements are a benefit to both firms and consumers’.
The existence of a procedure, together with evidence that the employer is concerned to deal
effectively with any malpractice, will make it less likely that a tribunal will find that an employee was
behaving reasonably by making disclosures to an outside body or person. The employer will
usually be the best person to investigate and, if necessary, put matters right. An internal procedure
will also help to forestall the serious damage to an employer's business or reputation that can
occur as a result of public disclosures.
What should a whistleblowing procedure contain?
Employers should make clear to employees what to do if they come across malpractice in the
workplace. This should encourage employees to inform someone with the ability to do something
about the problem. Guidance will need to reflect the circumstances of individual employers, but
should make clear that:
the kinds of actions targeted by the legislation are unacceptable and the employer
attaches importance to identifying and remedying malpractice (specific examples
of unacceptable behaviour might usefully be included).
employees should inform their line manager immediately if they become aware that
any of the specified actions is happening (or has happened, or is likely to happen).
in more serious cases (eg if the allegation is about the actions of their line
manager), the employee should feel able to raise the issue with a more senior
manager, bypassing lower levels of management.
whistleblowers can ask for their concerns to be treated in confidence and such
wishes will be respected.
employees will not be penalised for informing management about any of the
It is preferable to deal with whistleblowing separately, rather than as an extension to or part of an
existing grievance procedure, while cross referencing procedures on discipline and grievances.
This is partly because the scale of risk to the organisation and to the employee will generally be
significantly greater in whistleblowing cases than with other matters. In addition, the whistleblower
may have no grievance in relation to terms and conditions, or indeed in relation to the employer
(his or her concern may for example relate to the conduct of a contractor).
Many companies have codes of behaviour or ethical standards with which employees are
expected to comply. Such codes can help to reinforce whistleblowing policies and might be cross-
referenced in written guidance on whistleblowing.
How should the procedure be implemented?
A procedure is useful only insofar as it is followed. One problem is the reluctance many employees
feel to 'snitch' on colleagues. Despite often showing great courage and determination,
whistleblowers are not necessarily popular with their colleagues, particularly where the disclosure
threatens people’s jobs. HR managers have a duty to support whistleblowers that act in good faith
and it is in the long-term interests of the organisation that they should do so.
Managers may need training to ensure that matters brought to their attention are resolved in line
with the policy and in a way which will cause least damage to the organisation. Policies need to
have the full support of directors and senior managers and be communicated to all employees.
Managers notified of a concern:
have a responsibility to ensure that concerns raised are taken seriously
where appropriate, should investigate properly and make an objective assessment
of the concern
should keep the employee advised of progress
have a responsibility to ensure that the action necessary to resolve a concern is
Employers may wish to specify alternative means for employees to register concerns within the
organisation where they do not wish to approach their line manager. This could be eg a telephone
'hotline', and/or a designated manager or officer reporting to the most senior person in the
Confidentiality clauses which are often found in the contract of employment or staff handbook may
need to be qualified to take into account workers' rights under the Act. Following the US Sarbanes-
Oxley Act, which applies to EU-based affiliates of publicly held US companies, there has been an
increase in anonymous reporting hotlines for employees, The European Commission has
recommended that companies should not encourage anonymous reporting since whistleblowing
schemes require the processing of personal data and are subject to data protection rules.
CIPD welcomes the legislation, which offers useful support for employers' efforts to ensure
compliance with legal and ethical standards. Workers who have serious concerns that such
standards are not being met deserve effective legal protection. Employers should have a simple
policy that is supported from the top of the organisation and is clearly promoted to employees.
Organisations benefit commercially from adherence to good business practice. Public sector and
voluntary organisations are often highly vulnerable to accusations of unprofessional or unethical
behaviour. A statement of the behaviour expected of all employees will provide a helpful
framework against which individuals will be encouraged to report behaviour that fails to match up
to the standard.
A climate of open communication, supported by a clear procedure for dealing with concerns, can
help to reduce misconduct and ensure that any such concerns are dealt with expeditiously.
Employees who have serious concerns may feel the need to seek advice, for example from a
recognised trade union or independent legal adviser.
Advice can also be obtained from:
Department of Trade and Industry
Public Concern at Work
1. BENTLEY, R. (2006) Blowing the whistle. Employers' Law. April. pp12-13.
2. FINANCIAL SERVICES AUTHORITY (2002) Whistleblowing, the FSA & the
financial services industry. Policy paper. London: FSA. Available at:
CIPD members can use our Advanced Search to find additional library resources on this topic and
also use our online journals collection to view journal articles online. People Mangement articles
are available to subscribers and CIPD members in the People Management online archive.
Go to Advanced Search
Go to our online journals collection
Go to People Management online archive
CALLAND, R. and DEHN, G. (2004) Whistleblowing around the world: law, culture and practice.
London: ODAC/Public concern at work.
INCOMES DATA SERVICES. (2004) Whistleblowing at work. Employment law supplement.
BEVITT, A. and RETZER, K. (2006) Reporting: a blow by blow account. People Management. Vol
12, No 8. 20 April. p19.
DHINDSA, R. and ROSOLINSKY, N. (2005) Something to shout out about. People Management.
Vol 11, No 20, 13 October. p19.
KENYON, W. (2003) How to create a policy for whistle-blowing. People Management. Vol 9, No 4,
20 February. pp56-57.
THOMAS, R. (2006) Whistleblowing update. IRS Employment Review. No 853, 18 August. pp51-
This factsheet was written and updated by CIPD staff and Lisa Ayling (solicitor and employment