Advice on whistleblowing

A whistleblowing policy can help you report abuse, says John Burnell

Q: I believe my immediate boss has been abusing her position for personal gain, but I have no evidence. What should I do?

A: If you work for a well-run organisation, it will have a whistleblowing policy. A good policy should be based on laws to protect staff who raise concerns on a limited number of legal issues, but should also accommodate worries about bad practice and other matters that affect the effective management of your charity. So your first step is to check the details of your organisation's policy and, as far as possible, work within it.

What you must not do is remain silent. If something is wrong, you owe it to the charity's beneficiaries to try to put it right. Equally, however, you need to do this in a way that does not leave your motives open to question. After all, who is likely to benefit from your immediate boss's demise?

It is essential that you are on firm ground; these situations are often merely misunderstandings. So if possible, you should raise your concerns with your boss to see whether there is a perfectly innocent explanation. Even if there isn't, the fact that you have raised the matter might nip the problem in the bud.

But if you don't get the assurances you seek, or feel unable to confront your boss, then you need to take your concerns to a more senior figure.

Before you do, however, you need to be sure of your facts, so gather a portfolio of evidence. Keep your personal feelings or value judgments out of the portfolio. If you let the facts speak for themselves, you are far less likely to be accused of having ulterior motives.

Then, and only then, you should go to your boss's boss - or, if you have one, to the HR department - and present them with your evidence. By all means, be ready to answer any questions, but don't press too hard for action. It's now out of your hands, and it is their decision whether and how to proceed. You don't really even have a right to know the outcome, although sensible organisations will give you guarded feedback on your complaints.

Lastly, if you believe those you went to are colluding with your boss to push everything under the carpet, you could revisit the whistleblowing policy and, if you feel it is appropriate, go public. If you've followed the steps I've advocated, you should be protected from victimisation for doing so.

- John Burnell is director of Personnel Solutions

- Send your HR questions to

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