1 Introduction and purpose
The council values it’s employees as the eyes and ears of the organisation and welcomes the raising of concerns as an opportunity to:
- Make improvements;
- Prevent poor practice or wrongdoing from becoming entrenched;
- Stop serious incidents from happening;
- Resolve issues internally.
This policy has been developed to provide an effective process for raising and resolving concerns which may fall outside the scope of everyday business or other internal procedures. It aims to re-assure employees that they can raise concerns safely and in confidence without fear of detriment. The policy explains the legislation around protected disclosures (whistleblowing) and is supported by further guidance for managers and employees.
2 Policy Statement
Employees will not suffer any detriment as a result of raising a genuine concern under this policy. Speaking up about concerns underpins the council’s key organisational behaviours; positive; accountable; courageous.
The council will not tolerate unacceptable behaviour such harassment or victimisation towards an employee who has raised a concern or attempts at bullying them into not raising the concern. Employees found to have behaved in such a way will be subject to disciplinary action.
The council may also take disciplinary action in cases where it is believed, following appropriate investigation, that a malicious or vexatious allegation has been made.
This policy applies to anybody working for, with or on behalf of the council. This may be for example, employees, agency workers, contractors or suppliers. The policy is in addition to the council's complaints procedures and other statutory reporting procedures applying to some services, for example safeguarding procedures for children or adults.
It covers concerns at work, including those which may have a public interest to them. A separate policy is in place for employees to address workplace problems directly relating to them (grievances), which have no additional public interest.
4 The Law
This policy takes account of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) which provides legal protection against detriment for employees who raise concerns in the public interest about a danger, risk, malpractice or wrongdoing in the workplace which affects others. Protection applies where an employee reasonably believes that the information shows that one of the categories of wrongdoing listed in the legislation has occurred or is likely to occur and they have raised their concern in the correct way. See section 5.1 Protected Disclosures (whistleblowing) for more information.
5 Types of concerns
Employees can raise any concern they have about the council, it’s business, services or people. There are no right or wrong concerns – if an employee feels something isn’t quite right they should speak up.
This could be something they have seen or heard at work which has left them feeling uncomfortable or troubled and may relate to a practice or behaviour of others which has caused concern, which may include for example:
- Policies, procedures or practices not being followed;
- Inadequate induction, training, supervision or my time meetings for staff;
- The care or treatment of service users;
- The safety or wellbeing of service users, residents or staff;
- Unsafe conditions for staff or service users;
- Inappropriate activity in the workplace;
- Something which could damage the council’s reputation or image;
- A culture of inappropriate behaviour, including bullying or intimidation.
5.1 Protected Disclosures (whistleblowing)
In certain circumstances, an employee may raise a concern which qualifies as a protected disclosure under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA). To qualify as a protected disclosure, the employee must believe that the information they are disclosing is in the public interest and that one or more of the following matters is either happening, has taken place, or is likely to happen in the future:
- A criminal offence
- The breach of a legal obligation
- A miscarriage of justice
- A danger to the health and safety of any individual
- Damage to the environment
- Deliberate attempt to conceal any of the above.
Protection applies to employees who have disclosed the information in the correct way. This should be to their employer first, or where they have felt unable to do so, to a prescribed person (see guidance for further information). Protection applies to any form of detriment from an employer or colleagues, including victimisation, harassment, bullying or dismissal.
6 Raising a concern
There are a number of ways in which an employee can raise a concern within the council. This can be done face to face, in writing or by telephone.
Line managers play an important role in supporting employees and can help with resolving concerns swiftly or escalating through the appropriate channels where necessary. Line managers are aware of the services that the council has to offer and can help employees to access those that may be useful. They can also signpost to other external services that may be appropriate.
Employees should raise their concern with a more senior manager if they feel unable to approach their line manager, they feel their line manager may be involved or where they have already done so and do not feel appropriate action has been taken to resolve the concern.
6.1 Designated senior officers
The chief executive, members of the senior management team and designated officers have responsibilities to ensure that concerns are handled appropriately under this policy. If an employee has a serious concern and they do not feel comfortable raising with their manager, or have done so already and remain concerned following the response or action taken, they can contact one of the following officers:
- Assistant Director HR and OD Services
- Assistant Director Legal and Risk
- Chief Internal Auditor
- Director Customer Transformation
- Deputy Chief Executive
- Chief Executive.
Employees can speak to HR and OD Services for advice on how to raise a concern.
Members of a trade union can speak to their representative for advice about raising a concern. Trade unions can also provide support and representation to members throughout the process.
7 Raising a concern with an outside body
The council has developed this policy to provide a range of avenues for concerns to be raised and resolved internally and to re-assure you that there is no reason to be afraid of speaking up. However, if an employee is not satisfied with the way in which the concern has been handled, exhausted all avenues, or feels it is right to take the matter outside, there are strict criteria to make a disclosure protected. Employees are therefore encouraged to seek advice in the first instance. Here are some useful points of contact:
Members of a trade union can contact their local branch officers for advice. Health, Social Care and Education professionals can contact their relevant profession/regulatory bodies for advice.
Further information on making a public disclosure can be found in the employee guide along with a list of prescribed persons.
8 How we will handle a concern
When a concern is received, we will:
- Listen carefully
- Respond positively
- Act timely.
The response, action and timescales will depend upon:
- The nature of the concern
- The potential seriousness of the concern
- Who the concern involves and impacts upon
- The public interest dimension.
Depending on the above, officers involved may include:
- Senior manager
- HR and OD representative
- Internal Auditor
- Legal representative
- Safeguarding – Adults or CYPS LADO.
In some cases, it may also be necessary to involve external partners such as the police or auditor.
9 Managing expectations
The nature, scope and complexity of concerns may vary significantly, and it can often be difficult to provide a definitive response at the outset however discussions will cover the following points so that expectations are realistic and manageable:
- Next steps
- Contacts and support.
10 Confidentiality and anonymity
The council encourages employees to raise concerns openly but appreciates they may wish to raise it confidentially in some cases. The council will do its best to protect an employee’s identity. In some circumstances however, an identity may need to be disclosed as part of an investigation or where legally required by the police. The council will ensure if this is the case it will only be to those who need to know.
Employees should be assured that the council will focus on the message not the messenger and anyone with a genuine concern has no reason to fear identifying themselves. If we know who you are we can find out more information but more importantly, we can help to ensure your wellbeing and provide you with contacts for additional support. Anonymous concerns however will still be looked into, as far as reasonably possible, based on the information provided.
11 Data Protection
In certain circumstances during the course of investing a complaint we may share information e.g. with the Police. This will usually only occur if it is believed that some form of a criminal offence has been committed. In all other cases we will only share any personal data where there is legal authority or explicit consent to do so.
HR & OD Services, Legal Services and Audit are the joint custodians of this policy with the Assistant Director – Legal (as Monitoring Officer) having overall responsibility.
A summary of concerns which fall under the category of a protected disclosure (5.1) and the outcomes, including those where no further action was taken, will be maintained by each directorate as part of the annual Director’s Assurance Statement and made available for reporting purposes, to the appropriate council officers or members, as and when required.
Training will be included as part of a wider package of learning and development for managers.
14 Further information and support
Managers and employees can seek advice on the application of this policy from HR and OD services (for People, Places and Resources Directorates).
All employees have access to access to a wide range of support and advice from the free 24/7 Employee Assistance Programme, telephone number 03303 800 658.