How to rat successfully

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The Independent Online
Since it was launched in October 1993, Public Concern At Work, an independent charity, has given free legal help to more than 700 people concerned with serious malpractice at work in all sectors. A survey of 100 clients showed that only one had been victimised as a result of following their advice, and even she was happy with the outcome. The survey suggested that men were more likely to be whistle blowers than women (67 per cent against 37 per cent) and that older people are more likely to have the courage of their convictions: almost half were aged 36-49.

"The way we deal with people coming to us depends very much on what stage they're at in raising their concern," says Elaine Seth-Smith, the organisation's legal adviser. "Some come to us when they're about to, and we would say that the earlier people come forward, the better. But others come to us when they have already done it and have lost their job as a result, and they often feel they've lost everything simply for being a good person. We also get people who have resigned, and then consider speaking out over what has been going on.

"Those still in their jobs are usually most concerned about their legal position. The vast majority are not concerned about money: their dilemma is between doing the morally right thing and risking having their friends turn against them. If they are still in work, we try and guide them carefully so that they can voice their concerns with the minimum of damage caused to themselves. But if they've already walked out, or have been sacked, they might have lost legal rights, their friends and maybe even their home. Our role then is to reassure the person that what they've done is the right thing, and that they should never have lost trust in their employer to the extent where they felt it necessary to speak out. Often, their situation has bred paranoia, and they feel the whole world is against them; when they come to us they are able to unburden themselves and feel an enormous sense of relief.

We try and pin down people's motives very early on in the process. We ask them if they are seeking to expose an individual or group of individuals, or the organisation as a whole; if the latter is the case, we would ask them if they really want to be responsible for possibly closing down an entire business and causing lots of other people to lose their jobs. Most have genuine, philanthropic motives: I've recently been dealing with someone working at a university who has knowledge of public funds being misspent, and her motive was simply wanting to expose the waste. There are others who simply want to cover their own backs, and just come to us for a bit of free legal advice, but they're in the minority."

Public Concern At Work says that if you think there could be an issue that needs exposing you should:

Be sure of the evidence.

Raise it as a concern, not as a proven fact.

Talk through doubts with someone you trust outside your organisation such as family, friends, doctor, priest or Public Concern At Work.

If you cannot raise it with your manager, speak to someone senior whom you trust.

And remember, it is your responsibility to raise the concern, not to solve the problem.

Public Concern At Work can be contacted on: 0171-404 6609.