Whistleblowing (Public Interest Disclosure) policy

  • Introduction

    1. A Public Interest Disclosure means a disclosure by a worker concerning wrongdoing on the part of their employer. It is often called “Whistleblowing”.  The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 provides employees with legal protection against being dismissed or penalised by their employer as a result of disclosing certain serious concerns.   It also requires employees who wish to disclose such concerns and who wish to retain the protection offered by the Act to follow the relevant internal procedure provided by their employer in all but the most exceptional circumstances. 

    2. The University is committed to the highest standards of openness, probity and accountability and expects employees, students and others who work with the University who have serious concerns about any aspect of the University’s work to voice those concerns. As an institution of higher education, the University is also committed to safeguarding academic freedom, in the sense that individuals should feel free to raise serious concerns about academic standards and related matters.

    Purpose

    1. This procedure provides the means by which individuals who have a reasonable belief that there are significant matters of public interest that are causing concerns can report them and ensure that they are appropriately considered.

    2. The University's overall aims under the policy are to reassure staff, students or anyone contractually engaged with the University that concerns will be taken seriously, investigated appropriately and confidentiality respected.  This document sets out in detail the University's commitment to this.

    3. This procedure is designed to allow concerns of public interest arising from the business and conduct of university affairs to be raised, investigated and where appropriate, acted upon. Although the Act offers protection specifically to employees, this procedure is available to students, governors and those contracted to provide services to the University.

    4. Individuals should be assured by this  Whistleblowing policy that it is acceptable and safe for them to raise such concerns without fear of detriment and to understand that there is a clear procedure for doing so. All disclosures (ie the sharing of information relating to potential wrongdoing) will be acted upon promptly, sensitively, fairly and properly. All disclosures will be treated confidentially to the extent that this is compatible with a thorough investigation where that is deemed to be necessary.  

    A Qualifying Disclosure

    1. A qualifying disclosure is one made in the public interest by an individual who has a reasonable belief that one of the following has been (in the recent past), is being, or is likely to be committed:

    2. Matters which relate to workplaces other than Oxford Brookes University, for example in hospitals, businesses or other places where students or staff may be based or on placement/secondment should follow the whistleblowing policy for that relevant organisation. In such cases it is expected that the University, Faculty or Directorate will have ensured that students and staff are made aware of the relevant whistleblowing procedures in force at the other workplaces and, should it be necessary, will provide appropriate support to those seeking to follow other organisations' whistleblowing procedures.

    3. The University recognises the importance of assuring individuals that they will not be harassed, dismissed or victimised as a result of raising a legitimate complaint. An individual making a disclosure to the appropriate person will not be penalised provided the disclosure is made in good faith and in the reasonable belief that the information disclosed, and any allegation contained in it, are substantially true. Where this is not the case,  the University will take appropriate action against the person responsible. A frivolous or vexatious complaint or one raised in order to harass or falsely discredit another person may result in action against the complainant.

    1. It is expected that any disclosures will be raised internally under this whistleblowing policy in the first instance.  It is important to note that no protection from internal disciplinary procedures is offered to those who choose not to use the procedure. Those making a disclosure should, however, note that they are not entitled to make a disclosure if in so doing they commit a criminal offence.

    2. Since it may not be possible to undertake a fair and effective investigation of an anonymous complaint, it will not, in many instances, be possible to proceed under this procedure. Therefore, a person raising a complaint is encouraged to put their name to the allegation. However, anonymous complaints may be reported and may be investigated or acted upon, as the person receiving the complaint sees fit, having regard to the seriousness of the issue raised, the credibility of the complaint, the prospects of being able to investigate the matter, and fairness to any individual mentioned in the complaint.

    3. The identity of the person making a disclosure will be kept confidential, if  requested, provided that this is compatible with a proper investigation. If an allegation raises matters of extreme concern, the University may be obliged to pursue the matter even if it involves a breach of confidentiality. In such cases every reasonable effort will be made to agree a way forward with the complainant. However, there may be some circumstances (for example allegations of criminal activity, potentially significant civil liability or serious contraventions of the University's public responsibilities) when it is necessary to take action without observing strict confidentiality. Information relating to the person(s) about whom a complaint is made and the matters raised will only be divulged to others to the extent necessary to undertake a proper investigation. Anyone assisting with an investigation must keep confidential the matters that have been discussed with them.

    4. A person raising a matter under this procedure or anyone interviewed in the course of investigating such a matter may be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative if they so choose.

    Legislation

    1. Employment Rights Act 1996

    2. Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998

    3. Data Protection Act 2018

    4. General Data Protection Regulation (2016/679 EU)

    Date Policy Reviewed

    1. June 2022

    Scope 

    1. This whistleblowing policy applies to all members of staff and those who are engaged to work in the University and includes apprentices, interns, casual and temporary staff, agency workers, self-employed workers, contractors and suppliers, those with honorary contracts, work placements, visiting (but unpaid) researchers, and former employees. The policy also applies to any students undertaking work in the University and to members of University bodies such as Council and committees.  Employees are obliged by their contract of employment not to disclose confidential information about the University’s affairs. 

    1. Complaints that are not of a public interest kind will be dealt with by other procedures of the University. Other procedures are available to deal with:

    2. This procedure may not be used to re-open or review a matter already decided under these other procedures. However, if public interest issues were to become known for the first time through other procedures they may be investigated under this procedure.

    Principles

    1. It is expected that individuals associated with the University will not disclose confidential information about its activities. Where an individual discovers evidence of wrongdoing, the University will ensure that they may speak freely to the Registrar and Chief Operating Officer, as the Clerk to the Board of Governors, or with the Vice-Chancellor if the complaint is about or implicates the Clerk to the Board of Governors, to report the matter. 

    2. An individual may seek to resolve any issues of concern informally by bringing these to the attention of their line manager or another senior colleague either within or outside their department to enable swift, appropriate action as part of the day-to-day good practice of the University. Alternatively, an individual may seek to resolve an issue of concern by raising this with the People Directorate. Any concerns should be raised promptly so that they may be resolved as soon as possible.

    3. Individuals who make protected disclosures under this whistleblowing policy will be kept informed of the progress of any investigations at appropriate stages throughout the course of an investigation.

    4. Where the Whistleblowing policy is not the appropriate process in a particular situation, it may be appropriate to use an alternative procedure such as:

    Confidentiality

    1. All disclosures made under this Whistleblowing policy and procedure will be treated in a sensitive and, wherever  possible, confidential manner. If requested, the identity of the individual making the disclosure will be kept confidential for as long as possible, provided that this is compatible with an effective investigation. The investigatory process may have to reveal the identity of the individual making the disclosure and they may be requested to make a statement and/or attend an investigatory interview as part of the process.

    Procedure

    1. The matter should be raised initially with the Registrar and Chief Operating Officer, as the Clerk to the Board of Governors, or with the Vice-Chancellor if the complaint is about or implicates the Clerk to the Board of Governors. If the complaint implicates both, it should be raised with the Chair of the Board of Governors.

    2. Disclosures should normally be in writing and provide as much supporting evidence as possible about the concern and about the grounds for believing that malpractice has occurred.

    3. The person to whom the complaint is reported (i.e. the Clerk, Vice-Chancellor or Chair of the Board of Governors) will decide, in conjunction with a member of the Vice-Chancellor’s Group not connected in any way with the case, whether the matter is to be investigated and, if so, by whom. The choice of investigator will be notified to the complainant.

    4. Some complaints may require immediate referral to an outside body for consideration and investigation (e.g. the police, the Health and Safety Executive, the Office for Students), but usually a preliminary internal investigation will first be undertaken.

    5. The person conducting the investigation shall not be the person who will ultimately take decisions based on the findings of the investigation. Complaints concerning financial matters will normally be referred to the Chief Financial Officer for investigation (unless they are the subject of the complaint), who may commission the internal audit service to undertake the investigation on their behalf. Financial disclosures may also require early notification to the appropriate funding body and the Audit Committee. In exceptional cases, the University may wish to entrust an investigation to an independent person(s) from outside the University.

    6. The person to whom the disclosure is made will ensure that a written record is made of all stages of the complaint, including the matters raised, the conduct of any investigation and any decisions taken. Reasons will be given for any decisions taken.

    7. Where a decision is taken not to investigate or take any further action, the complainant will be informed in writing, normally within five working days of the decision. The Chair of the Board of Governors, the Vice-Chancellor (unless they are implicated in the complaint) and the Audit Committee (if it is a financial matter) will also be informed.

    8. Where the matter has been investigated, the recipient of the complaint will decide after appropriate consultation what action, if any, should be taken, reporting the outcome to the complainant in writing normally within five working days of the decision. The outcome will also be reported to the Vice-Chancellor (unless they are implicated in the complaint), the Chair of the Board of Governors and the Audit Committee if it is a financial matter.

    9. The Chair of the Board of Governors (unless implicated in the complaint) has the power at any stage to decide that a course of action in relation to the complaint shall be followed or any particular course of action shall not be followed.

    1. If appropriate following an investigation, it may be decided the matter will be managed under the University Disciplinary Policy. Where a disclosure leads to a formal disciplinary process and if necessary, there shall be full disclosure of the name of the discloser. This is managed on the basis of who needs to know, the overall context of confidentiality, as well as the nature of the allegation(s). Where applicable any available evidence will be shared to the individual against whom the allegation has been made, to enable them to have the opportunity to respond to the allegation. 

    Independent review

    1. Provided the procedure above has been exhausted, the complainant, if dissatisfied with the outcome of an investigation, may request that the matter is reviewed by an independent person appointed for that purpose. Any such request must be in writing and must be received by the person to whom the disclosure was originally reported within 14 calendar days of the decision on the complaint being dispatched.

    2. The purpose of the independent review shall be to consider whether:

    3. The Chair of the Board of Governors will, after consultation with the complainant, appoint a person who is not a current employee, governor or other office holder or agent of the University and who is appropriately skilled to conduct the review.

    4. The independent review will not entail oral hearings, but the reviewer will have the right to interview the complainant and any other persons, including those involved in the handling of the complaint. New evidence or relevant material may be considered at the discretion of the reviewer. The reviewer may determine, in the light of new evidence or relevant material, that the matter be referred for further investigation.

    5. If the review concludes that the original investigation and decision were sound, it shall so report to the Board of Governors and to the complainant. Such a decision shall be final. 

    6. If the review finds that either the investigation or the decision was not sound, it shall report its findings and its recommendations for remedy and to prevent recurrence to the Board of Governors and to the complainant. The Board of Governors shall decide what action, if any, to take and its decision in this respect shall be final.

    Disclosure to prescribed bodies

    1. Staff, students, governors and other relevant persons are strongly encouraged to use this procedure to raise concerns of a public interest nature as described in paragraph 4 within the University so that there is the opportunity for the University to be aware of and, where necessary, address those concerns. The Public Interest Disclosure Act (1998) includes a right for the individual to raise their concerns with an external person or body.   An employee can make a disclosure (and still retain protection under the Act) to a non-prescribed person if certain conditions are met, namely:

    2. The employee must also:

    3. The following are examples of relevant prescribed bodies or similar organisations with which such disclosure might be made, together with the areas in which they have a regulatory role or specific responsibility:

    4.  It will rarely, if ever, be appropriate to alert the media. It is strongly recommended that advice is sought before reporting a concern to the media or an external body, including in relation to any duty to maintain confidentiality.  Wider disclosure, for instance to the media, is not to a prescribed third party and such disclosures, even where made in the public interest, may not be protected under the Act and may be considered a breach of this Whistleblowing policy.  

    Further University Support

    Anybody with a question about this Whistleblowing policy or who would like to seek further information should contact their Link People Manager.

    Independent Advice

    Anybody who would like independent advice can seek this from the charity Protect, whose details are at the following link: https://protect-advice.org.uk/contact-us/

    The Employee Assistance Programme may also be able to provide advice; their details are at the following link: https://intranet.brookes.ac.uk/human-resources/working-here/wellbeing/employee-assistance-programme/

    Union members may be able to seek independent advice from their union.


    Reviewed June 2022