Legal update: Whistleblowing protection for volunteers

Article date
24 January 2020
Primary interest
Voluntary sector

All charities should have whistleblowing procedures in place to safeguard their charity and beneficiairies.

What is whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing is when an individual reports suspected wrong-doing in an organisation.

All employees and workers, who are whistleblowers, are protected by law (under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998), and should not be treated unfairly or lose their job because they ‘blow the whistle’. Typical whistleblowing would relate to:

  • a criminal offence, eg fraud
  • someone’s health and safety is in danger
  • risk or actual damage to the environment
  • a miscarriage of justice
  • the organisation is breaking the law, eg doesn’t have the right insurance
  • the whistleblower believes someone is covering up wrongdoing.

(note: personal grievances do not constitute whistleblowing and staff should normally raise these through grievance procedures).

What about volunteers?

The ground-breaking decision from the Supreme Court in Gilham v Ministry of Justice 2019 means that this protection is extended to volunteers. In this case the Claimant was a District Judge and claimed he had been victimised due to raising concerns about cost-cutting reforms and their impact. The Supreme Court held that her situation came under her right to freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act 1998, and not giving her the protection under Whistleblowing legislation would have meant she would have been treated less favourably.

Although this case concerned a paid statutory appointment, the implication from this case is that the same reasoning is likely to apply to volunteers, who could also rely on the same protection under the Human Rights Act to ensure they are protected under Whistleblowing legislation.

Action for charities:
  1. Review whistleblowing procedures and ensure that this includes protection for volunteeers as well as staff.
  2. Make the policy available to volunteers and explain its purpose.
Further guidance, resources and support:

If you need further support with developing or reviewing your policy, contact advice@rva.org.uk or telephone 0118 9372273.