(Making a Disclosure in the Public Interest)
Stepping Stones for Families is committed to the highest standards of openness, probity and accountability. An important aspect of accountability and transparency is a mechanism to enable employees and other members of the organisation to voice concerns in a responsible and effective manner. It is a fundamental term of every contract of employment that an employee will faithfully serve his or her employer and not disclose confidential information about the employer’s business affairs. Nevertheless, where an individual discovers information which they believe shows serious malpractice or wrongdoing within the organisation then this information should be disclosed internally without fear of reprisal, and there should be arrangements to enable this to be done independently of line management (although in relatively minor instances the line manager would be the appropriate person to be told).
The Public Interest Disclosure Act, which came into effect in 1999, gives legal protection to employees against being dismissed or penalised by their employers as a result of publicly disclosing certain serious concerns. The organisation has endorsed the provisions set out below so as to ensure that no employee should feel at a disadvantage in raising legitimate concerns. It should be emphasised that this policy is intended to assist individuals who believe they have discovered malpractice or impropriety. It is not designed to question financial or business decisions taken by the organisation nor should it be used to reconsider any matters which have already been addressed under harassment, complaint, disciplinary or other procedures. Once the “whistleblowing” procedures are in place, it is reasonable to expect employees to use them rather than air their complaints outside the organisation.
Scope of Policy
This policy is designed to enable employees of Stepping Stones for Families to raise concerns internally and at a high level and to disclose information which the individual believes shows malpractice or impropriety. This policy is intended to cover concerns which are in the public interest and may at least initially be investigated separately but might then lead to the invocation of other procedures e.g. disciplinary. These concerns could include
Financial malpractice or impropriety or fraud Failure to comply with a legal obligation or Statutes Dangers to Health & Safety or the environment Criminal activity Improper conduct or unethical behaviour Attempts to conceal any of these Concerns that fall under the Protection of Children and Young People and Vulnerable Adults policy and procedures. ( refer to appropriate policy)
Safeguards i. Protection This policy is designed to offer protection to those employees of the organisation who disclose such concerns provided the disclosure is made:
In good faith
In the reasonable belief of the individual making the disclosure that it tends to show malpractice or impropriety. Where this cannot be evidenced no action will be taken against the individual reporting the matter. Vexatious reporting will be dealt with under the disciplinary procedures In an extreme case malicious or wild allegations could give rise to legal action on the part of the persons complained about. Any attempt to victimise employees or volunteers for raising genuine concerns or to prevent such concerns being raised, will be regarded as a disciplinary matter.
ii. Confidentiality The organisation will treat all disclosures in a confidential and sensitive manner. The identity of the individual making the allegation may be kept confidential so long as it does not hinder or frustrate any investigation. However, the investigation process may reveal the source of the information and the individual making the disclosure may need to provide a statement as part of the evidence required. iii. Anonymous Allegations This Whistle blowing policy encourages individuals to put their name to any disclosures they make. Concerns expressed anonymously are much less credible, but they may be considered at the discretion of the organisation. In exercising this discretion, the factors to be taken into account will include:
The seriousness of the issues raised The credibility of the concern The likelihood of confirming the allegation from attributable sources
iv. Untrue Allegations No action will be taken against an individual making an allegation in good faith, which is not confirmed by subsequent investigation. In making a disclosure the individual should exercise due care to ensure the accuracy of the information. If, however, an individual makes malicious or vexatious allegations, and particularly if he or she persists with making them, disciplinary action may be taken against that individual.
Procedures for Making a Disclosure
On receipt of a complaint of malpractice, the member of staff who receives and takes note of the complaint, must pass this information as soon as is reasonably possible, to the appropriate designated investigating officer as follows:
Complaints of malpractice will be investigated by the appropriate manager or delegated employee unless the complaint is against that person or is in any way related to the actions of that person. All complaints should be notified directly to the Chief Executive for referral. In the case of a complaint, which is any way connected with but not against a manager, the Chief Executive will nominate another Manager to act as the alternative investigating officer. Complaints against the Chief Executive should be passed to the Chair of the Board of Directors who will nominate an appropriate investigating officer. The complainant in this instance has the right to bypass the line management structure and take their complaint direct to the Chair. The Chair has the right to refer the complaint back to the Chief Executive if he/she feels that the management without any conflict of interest can more appropriately investigate the complaint.
Should none of the above routes be suitable or acceptable to the complainant, then the complainant may approach one of the following individuals who have been designated and trained as independent points of contact under this procedure. They can advise the complainant on the implications of the legislation and the possible internal and external avenues of complaint open to them:
2. Public Concern at Work, a charity which offers free, confidential legal advice on serious concerns within the workplace (0207 404 6609).
If there is evidence of criminal activity then the investigating officer should inform the police at the earliest opportunity. The organisation will ensure that any internal investigation does not hinder a formal police investigation.
Due to the varied nature of these sorts of complaints, which may involve internal investigators and / or the police, it is not possible to lay down precise timescales for such investigations. The investigating officer should ensure that the investigations are undertaken as quickly as possible without affecting the quality and depth of those investigations.
The investigating officer, should as soon as practically possible, send a written acknowledgement of the concern to the complainant and thereafter report back to them in writing the outcome of the investigation and on the action that is proposed. If the investigation is a prolonged one, the investigating officer should keep the complainant informed, in writing, as to the progress of the investigation and as to when it is likely to be concluded.
All responses to the complainant should be in writing and sent to their home address.
The investigating officer should follow these steps:
Full details and clarifications of the complaint should be obtained. The investigating officer should inform the employee against whom the complaint is made as soon as is practically possible. The employee will be informed of their right to be accompanied by a trade union or other representative at any future interview or hearing held under the provision of these procedures. The investigating officer should consider the involvement of the organisation auditors and the Police at this stage and should consult with the Chief Executive or where appropriate the Chair of the Board. The allegations should be fully investigated by the investigating officer with the assistance where appropriate, of other individuals / bodies. A judgement concerning the complaint and validity of the complaint will be made by the investigating officer. This judgement will be detailed in a written report containing the findings of the investigations and reasons for the judgement. The report will be passed to the Chief Executive or Chair as appropriate. The Chief Executive / Chair will decide what action to take. If the complaint is shown to be justified, then they will invoke the disciplinary or other appropriate organisation procedures. The complainant should be kept informed of the progress of the investigations and, if appropriate, of the final outcome. If appropriate, a copy of the outcomes will be passed to the Auditors to enable a review of the procedures.
If the complainant is not satisfied that their concern is being properly dealt with by the investigating officer, they have the right to raise it in confidence with the Chief Executive / Chair, or one of the designated persons described above.
If the investigation finds the allegations unsubstantiated and all internal procedures have been exhausted, but the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation, the organisation recognises the lawful rights of employees and ex-employees to make disclosures to prescribed
persons (such as the Health and Safety Executive, the Audit Commission, or the Care Commission), or, where justified, elsewhere.
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