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Whistleblowing: guidance for members

The Engineering Council has issued guidance on whistleblowing, which is intended to support engineers and technicians when confronted with a potential whistleblowing situation. It sets out guidance they should follow in raising such a concern. This webpage contains guidance for members regarding raising concerns, together with resources where you can get further advice.

We would urge both employers and employees to take the issue of whistleblowing seriously. Our guidance and links to resources for individual members is below and we have produced some separate guidance for employers.

What is whistleblowing, and what are IET members’ obligations?

‘Whistleblowing’ is defined by the UK Whistleblowing Commission as ‘the raising of a concern, either within the workplace or externally, about a danger, risk, malpractice or wrongdoing which affects others’.

The IET’s Bye-laws (Bye-law 29) and Rules of Conduct impose obligations to act when encountering something inconsistent with those Rules.

Failure to raise a relevant concern may render a member liable to disciplinary action under our Rules of Conduct.

Many organisations, both within the public and the private sector, have policies and procedures for the employees to raise concerns.

In the first instance, therefore, IET members who are concerned about apparent wrongdoing in their organisations should consult their employer’s code or procedures for reporting wrongdoing.

However, should a member be in a position where they have tried to use their employers’ internal procedures and this has not proved effective, they may decide to go outside their organisation.

Other organisations whistleblowers may contact

The government has published a list of prescribed people and organisations [PDF, 637KB], other than employers, which whistleblowers can contact, depending on the sector they work in.

If you have a concern regarding our fundraising activities which cannot be considered our own procedures, you may wish to contact the Fundraising Regulator (note that you will need to select whether or not you are happy for the Regulator to pass your details to the IET). 

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA)

All IET members who are UK based or are engaged by UK firms and who are contemplating whistleblowing should be aware of the provisions of PIDA, which applies to people at work raising concerns about crimes, civil offences (including negligence, breach of contract, breach of administrative law), miscarriages of justice, dangers to health and safety or the environment and the ‘cover-up’ of any of these.

Employees who make what is known as a “protected disclosure” (ie a genuine case of whistleblowing), are generally protected from being discriminated against by their employer.

It applies whether or not the information is confidential and whether the malpractice is occurring in the UK or overseas.

We have produced a flowchart (which can be found below) to give an overview of whether a disclosure would be a “protected disclosure” under PIDA.

Note that employees in certain sectors are exempt from the protections of PIDA, and you should also distinguish between a genuine instance of whistleblowing and a grievance with your employer.

Detailed information on the operation of PIDA may be obtained from ‘Public Concern at Work’ (see below).

Protect (formerly Public Concern at Work)

IET members who are contemplating making public disclosure may wish to approach Protect.

Its objective is to safeguard the public interest by empowering individuals to speak up about wrongdoing in the workplace and helping organisations to address risk responsibly.

The charity is wholly independent of Government. Protect is recognised as a legal advice centre by the Bar Council and the Law Society.

Through its free confidential advice line (telephone +44 (0)20 3117 2520 or email via their online contact form), Protect’s lawyers provide confidential advice, free of charge, to people who are concerned about wrongdoing at work but who are not sure whether to or how to, raise their concerns.

Examples of the wrongdoing about which Protect can give advice are fraud, public dangers and risks to consumers.

For persons who are in this position, PCAW aims to help them identify how best to raise their concerns, whilst minimising any risk to them and maximising the opportunity for any wrongdoing to be addressed.

Protect also provides information about how PIDA operates.

It does not take cases or represent clients, but for persons wishing to make claims under PIDA and needing help to do so, it will give information on other useful sources of advice.

Information about Protect is given on its website.

Support from the IET

We have very limited scope to support members who feel an obligation to make a public disclosure, i.e. to ‘whistleblow’.

However, should a member wish to seek legal advice on a potential whistleblowing situation then we recommend they contact Foothold (The IET Benevolent Fund) and ask to be put through to their legal helpline +44(0) 20 7344 5498.

What if I am not employed by a UK organisation or UK based?

The IET’s Bye-laws and Rules of Conduct apply to all members, regardless of where they or their employer may be based.

If you are not UK based or not employed by a UK company, you should seek relevant local advice as to whether a disclosure you are thinking of making will be treated as a protected disclosure.