Staff are well protected in law when they draw attention to workplace malpractice and, as recent case law shows, failure to investigate can land employers in hot water. Phil Boucher reports
Whistleblowing in the workplace is legally sanctioned under the Public Interest and Disclosure Act 1999. This is largely an amendment to the Employment Rights Act 1996, and protects people who have found instances of workplace malpractice and wish to make them selves heard.
The organisation concerned is obliged to investigate the matter fully and is restricted from reprimanding or victimising a whistleblower in any way.
The legislation itself was introduced in the wake of high-profile cases such as the North Wales child abuse scandal and inquiry into baby deaths at Bristol Royal Infirmary. An investigation into the Bristol case found the infirmary suffered from a culture of silence and a tendency to close ranks. To blow the whistle, the individual had also fought against a hierarchy described as "inhibited".
Despite the fact two surgeons and a senior doctor administrator were eventually found guilty of serious professional misconduct, the whistleblowing happened later than it could have because a coherent disclosure policy was not in place.
The PIDA was designed to remove this major sticking point by providing a framework for reporting workplace malpractice.
In reality, while most employers do not deal with the life and death situations of a major city hospital, similar cultures remain in place in many parts of the business world. Many organisations do not even have a coherent disclosure policy in place.
A recent case involving the European Commission highlights the difficulties employees still face in attempting to raise concerns within an organisation. Marta Andreasen, the Commission's chief accountant, recently spoke out in the press about "Enron-style" accounting practices in the EU's £63bn budget.
She had been asked to sign off the 2001 budget, even though she had not been working for the Commission at that time and had grave doubts about the reliability of the computer systems. Mrs Andreasen had been shocked to discover the EU did not have double-entry bookkeeping when she joined in January 2002, and feared funds could be diverted without leaving an electronic fingerprint.
When Andreasen brought her worries to the attention of her superio