Calls to the advice line for whistleblowing charity Protect witnessed a substantial 23 percent increase in 2023, reflecting a concerning rise in the number of individuals facing challenges after raising concerns about wrongdoing within their organisations.

According to Protect, 73 percent of the callers expressed feeling unsupported by their employers after whistleblowing, with many stating that they experienced victimization or were pressured to resign.

Shockingly, 41 percent of those reaching out to the charity reported that their whistleblowing concerns had been outright ignored, and 15 percent were informed by their employers that their concerns were deemed invalid.

The data reveals a striking 48 percent surge in calls from health and social workers, making up the majority at 30 percent. Education sector professionals contributed 15 percent, while 7 percent came from the financial services industry.

Elizabeth Gardiner, the Chief Executive of Protect, pointed to a cultural shift in the acceptance of whistleblowing, driven by high-profile cases in the media. Gardiner stated, “Public opinion is often ahead of employers here: the high profile of whistleblowing has been accompanied by a renewed respect for those calling out wrongdoing and acting in the public interest.”

Encouraging employees to speak up

Gardiner emphasised the importance of encouraging employees to speak up, noting that whistleblowers serve as a vital early warning system for organisations.

“Whistleblowers can provide a vital early warning system; all organisations should have whistleblowing reporting channels in place, to ensure they hear from their workforce about wrongdoing, risk, and malpractice,” she stated.

Pete Cooper, Director of People Partners and DEI at HR software business Personio, highlighted the need for fostering a trusting and transparent culture to ensure appropriate reporting of misconduct.

“Creating a psychologically safe environment where employees can voice their concerns without fear of reproach is critical to ensuring that employees have a way to safely report issues,” Cooper said. He referred to research by Personio from September 2023, which found that 91 percent of UK employees are concerned about retaliation against whistleblowers.

Cooper continued, “The ramifications of not getting this right are clear. Not only is it an economic and reputational issue but, more crucially, these organisations put the safety of their people, customers, and business at risk.”

Naeema Choudry, Partner at law firm Eversheds Sutherland, emphasised that although there is no legal obligation in the UK for employers to investigate a whistleblowing request, neglecting to do so could lead to reputational damage.

“An employee who is subsequently dismissed or subjected to a detriment for having made certain types of whistleblowing complaints would be able to bring a claim in the employment tribunal,” Choudry warned.

Choudry also stressed the importance of protecting the identity of complainants unless there is a legal obligation to reveal details, highlighting the need for employers to manage conflicts arising from whistleblowing effectively.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.