Public interest disclosure policy

Purpose and principles and scope

[1] The University is committed to the highest standards of openness, probity and accountability. It seeks to conduct its affairs in a responsible manner taking into account the requirements of the funding bodies and the standards in public life set by the Committee on Standards in Public Life1.

[2] The University takes concerns about malpractice seriously and will seek to respond appropriately to any concerns which are raised, either through line management or through the Public Interest Disclosure Procedure.

[3] The University recognises that its workforce represents a valuable source of information to identify potential problems and to ensure that they are dealt with before they cause significant damage to the reputation of the University.

[4] The University has endorsed and will promote this Policy and Procedure to deter malpractice, encourage openness, promote transparency, underpin the University’s risk management arrangements and help protect the reputation of the University.

[5] The management of the University will seek to ensure that this Policy and Procedure and other relevant University standards and Procedures are effectively communicated to employees. Other individuals performing functions for the University, such workers paid by claim, agency workers and contractors, are also encouraged to use this Policy and Procedure.

[6] While every employee is expected not to disclose confidential information about their employer’s affairs, where an employee discovers information which they believe shows malpractice/wrongdoing within the University then this information should be disclosed without fear or reprisal. In most situations, reporting concerns direct to line managers will be sufficient to prevent malpractice but employees may report concerns independently of line management where they have concerns that line management will not take their concern seriously or may be involved in malpractice.

[7] The Public Interest Disclosure Procedure allows employees of the University to raise at a high level concerns or to disclose information which the employee believes shows malpractice or impropriety. It is not designed to question financial or business decisions taken by the University.

[8] This Policy is intended to cover concerns which are in the public interest2 and may (at least initially) be investigated separately from other Procedures (for example the Disciplinary Procedure, the Grievance Procedure or the Dignity and Respect Policy) but might then lead to the invocation of such Procedures. Such concerns might include:

  • financial malpractice, impropriety or fraud;
  • failure to comply with a legal obligation;
  • failure to comply with the Charter, Statutes, Ordinances and Regulations of the University; 
  • dangers to health and safety or to the environment;
  • criminal activity;
  • academic or professional malpractice;
  • improper conduct or unethical behaviour; 
  • attempts to conceal any of the above.

[9] The Public Interest Disclosure Procedure is not applicable to the concerns of an employee about their personal relationship with the University, where there is no additional public interest dimension. Such concerns should be raised through the Grievance Procedure. The Public Interest Disclosure Procedure cannot be used to reconsider any matters which have already been addressed under other University Procedures (including Grievance or Disciplinary Procedures and the Dignity and Respect Policy). Where it is unclear which Procedure applies, the decision of the designated person will be final.

Safeguards

[10] The Public Interest Disclosure Act gives legal protection to employees against dismissal or other detriment by their employer or fellow worker as a result of disclosing certain concerns. This Policy and Procedure provides protection to employees who disclose such concerns provided the disclosure is made in the reasonable belief of the employee making the disclosure that it tends to show malpractice and is in the public interest. An employee will be protected if they make the disclosure to the designated person (see Procedure).

[11] The University aims to promote a culture in which employees feel confident to raise concerns openly. Consequently, employees are encouraged to put their name to any disclosures they make. Openness makes it easier for the University to assess the issues, determine how to investigate the matter and to undertake an effective and thorough investigation. However, the University understands that some employees may wish to raise concerns confidentially or anonymously.

[12] Subject to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act, the University will treat all disclosures made under this Policy and Procedure in a confidential and sensitive manner.

[13] Where the employee making the disclosure requests (at the time they make their disclosure) that their identity be kept confidential, the University will comply with this request provided it does not hinder or frustrate any investigation. However, the investigation process may reveal the source of the information and the employee making the disclosure may need to provide a statement as part of the evidence required. Where it is no longer possible to maintain confidentiality, the designated person will notify the employee in writing.

[14] Concerns expressed anonymously are more difficult to investigate, but they may be considered at the discretion of the designated person. In exercising this discretion, the factors to be taken into account will include:

  • the seriousness of the issues raised; 
  • the credibility of the concern; and 
  • the likelihood of confirming the disclosure from attributable sources.

[15] If an employee makes a disclosure which he or she reasonably believes is in the public interest and tends to show malpractice and is in the public interest, which is not confirmed by subsequent investigation, no action will be taken against that employee. If, however, an employee makes a disclosure which does not satisfy those criteria, and particularly if he or she persists with making them, disciplinary action may be taken against the employee concerned.

External disclosures

[16] The aim of the Procedure is to provide an internal mechanism for reporting, investigating and remedying any malpractice. In most cases employees should not find it necessary to report their concerns outside the University. The law recognises that in some circumstances it may be appropriate to report concerns to an external body3, for example the Funding Council, a Research Council, the Health and Safety Executive or a regulatory body. It will very rarely, if ever, be appropriate to alert the media.

[17] If the employee does not wish to raise the matter with either the designated person (see Procedure, below) or the Vice-Chancellor, then he or she may raise it with the Chair of the Audit Committee (if the issue falls within the purview of that Committee) or with the Chair of the Council of the University.

[18] Before raising a concern, an employee can seek advice from their trade union, professional body or the University multi-faith Chaplaincy team.

Notes

[1] The Seven Principles Of Public Life

[2] The University’s Public Interest Disclosure Policy and Procedure encompass the University’s responsibilities under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which provides protection for workers who raise concerns about specified matters called ‘qualifying disclosures’. Qualifying disclosures are disclosures of information which the worker reasonably believes are made in the public interest and tend to show one or more of the following matters is either happening now, took place in the past, or is likely to happen in the future:

  • a criminal offence; 
  • the breach of a legal obligation but not the breach of an employee’s own employment contract; 
  • a miscarriage of justice; 
  • a danger to the health or safety of any individual; 
  • damage to the environment; or 
  • deliberate covering up of information tending to show any of the above five matters.

[3] The Public Interest Disclosure Act provides that in certain circumstances a qualifying disclosure may be made to person or body prescribed by the Secretary of State, ie where the worker reasonably believes that the matter falls within the description of matters for which the person or body has been prescribed. For example, breaches of health and safety regulations can be brought to the attention of the Health and Safety Executive, or environmental dangers can be notified to the Environment Agency.