How to be a whistleblower in the workplace and keep your job

Blowing the whistle on malpractice within your organisation can have some pretty severe consequences: just ask Edward Snowden, who spent more than five weeks holed up in the transit zone of a Moscow airport and is facing charges in the US of espionage and theft.

But while it's not unusual for whistleblowers to face problems, it is possible to raise and pursue concerns while keeping your own reputation intact and your job secure - if you go about it the right way.
Many people are unaware that whistleblowers can't legally be dismissed for their actions as long as they're reporting a criminal offence, failure to obey the law, miscarriage of justice, danger to someone's health and safety or damage to the environment. And they don't have to be employees to have this protection: the self-employed, agency workers and people who are in training with employers can also all be eligible.

However, in June this year, changes to the Public Interest Disclosure Act came into force which alter the conditions under which whistleblowers qualify for this protection. Now, it's necessary for whistleblowers to believe they were acting in the public interest. However, they're no longer required to be acting 'in good faith' - in other words, whistleblowers won't lose their protection from dismissal even if they're deemed to be motivated by the desire for personal gain or vengeance.

And there is now personal liability for co-workers who inflict reprisals on a whistleblower, along with vicarious liability for employers, giving them a clear duty in law to make sure that there's no victimisation.

This is an important change, according to Simon Rice-Birchall, partner at Eversheds law firm, which carried out a survey into whistleblowing earlier this year. "Our study suggested that nearly one third of respondents have encountered some form of bullying or other detriment in this context," he says. Too often, says Rice-Birchall, "employees are simply too scared to voice their concerns, unaware or mistrusting of the legal protection offered."

So what are the most important points to remember when raising concerns about bad practice within your workplace?

Collect your evidence carefully
Be specific about what you think is wrong and stick to the facts; don't drag in every tiny grievance you might have, as this will almost certainly damage your case. Always remember, too, that you may be wrong about your suspicions or misinformed - be wary of going in with all guns blazing unless you're absolutely certain about your facts. Keep copies of any relevant information you have in writing, and take notes on conversations.

Work with others
You may not be the only person with concerns about your organisation, and raising these as a group can be more persuasive, as well as making you feel less vulnerable.

Follow organisational procedures
For most disclosures, Wikileaks really isn't the best place to start. First, check whether your employer has a whistleblowing policy, and, if so use it to make your report - if you feel you can. If you genuinely believe, though, that your employer will cover up the issue (or has already done so), or if you believe you'll be treated unfairly if you complain, you can instead make a report to a lawyer, a government minister, or one of a list of prescribed bodies available from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

Don't break the law yourself
Staff aren't protected from dismissal if they break the law when making a disclosure, for example by breaking the Official Secrets Act. Nor are they protected if they received their information while giving legal advice; this is known as legal professional privilege.

Think carefully about going to the media
You're a lot more likely to get favourable treatment if you've reported concerns to your employer or a prescribed body than if you rush straight to the tabloids. On the upside, you'll have a good chance of remaining anonymous - and even of getting paid - but on the downside, you won't receive protection from unfair dismissal unless it's a particularly serious case or you didn't get a reasonable response elsewhere. And remaining anonymous isn't necessarily a good thing, as it may make it harder for the authorities to investigate your allegations.

It's easy to get the impression that whistleblowing inevitably backfires, but that is by no means the case. A survey carried out in June by YouGov for whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work found that one in ten workers had had a concern about possible corruption, danger or serious malpractice at work - but that most had safely been able to raise it with their employer. As chief executive Cathy James says: "It is startling that so many workers have witnessed serious wrongdoing in British workplaces, but reassuring that workers are willing to raise the alarm."

Britain's most dangerous jobs
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How to be a whistleblower in the workplace and keep your job

By far the most dangerous job across most of the world is fishing. Apparently 103 in every 100,000 fishermen will die at sea - most of them by drowning, and according to Oxford University, those who work at sea are an incredible 50 times more likely to die at work than anyone else.

How well they are rewarded for risking their lives depends on where they fit in the pecking order. At the very top, with your own boat and crew, in a good year, you could bring home more than £100,000. At the bottom of the heap as a trainee deckhand you would be lucky to get more than £10,000 a year.

In the army, these experts have the nickname Felix - because they need every one of the nine lives. We all make mistakes at work and in this role mistakes will kill or maim you. 

In return for taking up such a dangerous role, you'll be paid £32,000 a year, which is made to look even more paltry by the fact that many of these experts end up drawing a disability pension before very long.

The risks of working with highly volatile and explosive materials in impossibly difficult natural environments is bad enough. Add in the risks of working in politically charged environments where you may well be a target for terrorists, and you can see why this is a dangerous job. In fact it has a fatality rate of around 32 per 100,000, and around 100 people a year die in the industry- around twice the average for all UK workers.

This risk, however, is reasonably rewarded - partly because of the fact it can be hard to attract workers to the places where oil and gas needs to be extracted. It's not uncommon for those with experience to be making £75,000 a year.

Put people up high, give them something heavy and awkward to carry, then get them to do it in the rain. It's not surprising this is a dangerous job. What is perhaps surprising is that over the past five years 30% of all work-related deaths in the UK have been in this industry. The riskiest construction jobs are those where heights are part of the every-day business of work - with scaffolders, steeplejacks ad roofers facing the most danger at work.

The pay starts around £20,000 for skilled workers, rising to around £50,000 for site managers.

Around 54,000 road accidents involving professional drivers take place on British roads every year - which is around 250 a day. Meanwhile, one in four of all road deaths involve a driver who is at work at the time. Despite stringent rules about how long they are allowed to drive for, and in-cab telematics to make sure they don't bend the rules, tiredness is the main cause. 

In return for the danger, plus the long hours and the anti-social lifestyle, these workers can expect to earn around £25,000 a year.

The risks are perhaps unsurprising, given that drowning accounts for the majority of fatalities. However there are also problems from high gas consumption and mental health problems, often due to having to spend inordinate times decompressing in a confined space with another individual.

However, given the risks, the inhospitable locations and the skills required, the role can earn you £100,000 a year or more.

These are often ex-military personnel employed to protect wealthy or powerful individuals. The role is unsurprisingly highly dangerous, with the constant threat of terrorist attacks, enemy fire or booby traps.

There really is danger money associated with this job, which is another role than can earn the right individual 6 figures a year.

Around 15 police officers lose their lives at work every year. However, surprisingly, the biggest risk is from involvement in a road accident, which causes 70% of the deaths. Around half of these are officers getting to and from work. Meanwhile no more than one or two are killed by criminals in an average year. Fatalities, however, are only a small proportion of the massive number of injuries a policeman can pick up - with roughly one police officer injured every hour.

In return they can expect to earn around £40,000, rising to £55,000 for senior officers.

Again there aren't a huge number of deaths in the line of duty. However, every fire is potentially fatal, and every job carries the risk of injury. Injures are very common, although burns account for only 5% of them, the rest tend to be due to things like training and carrying equipment.

The pay has been subject to a number of arguments and even strikes but is currently around £30,000.

Perhaps it's surprising that this doesn't come higher up the list. Since 2001 over 350 have lost their lives fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The front line is clearly just about the most dangerous environment possible, and has to be up there with the place that most people would least like to work.

In return for putting their lives on the line in the service of their county, army personnel can expect to be paid £14,000 when they start out - rising to up to £100,000 for the most senior officers.

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