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Whistleblowers in the workplace and the consequences of a bullying culture

NHS Highland is set to pay out £3.4 million in settlements to current and former staff who have been victims of bullying within their place of work. The culture of bullying at NHS Highland was first uncovered by whistleblowers (those who report certain types of wrongdoing within a workplace) in 2018 which prompted an independent review to be carried out.

The following year in 2019 the independent review took place and out of the staff who took part by face-to face meetings and written submissions, the majority (66%) reported bullying experiences. Staff said they had not felt valued, respected or supported in carrying out “very stressful work”. The review also said that “many described a culture of fear and of protecting the organisation when issues were raised“.

The recommendations from the review, which were supported by the health secretary at the time, included educating all staff on the effects of bullying and providing a “properly functioning, clear, safe and respected wholly independent and confidential whistleblowing” mechanism.

Whistleblowing employment law: How are the victims being compensated?

In terms of remedies for those victims of bullying, NHS Highland has offered, as part of the “healing process” plan, psychological therapy, counselling and trauma treatment as well as an apology and financial compensation for those whose lives and careers were impacted. So far 150 cases have been reviewed and settled with two cases involving settlements of between £60,000 and £95,000 and 61 involving payments of between £5,000 and £15,000.

A valuable lesson for all employers

As specialist employment solicitors, we see this as not only a lesson to learn for other health boards, but also a lesson to all employers as it emphasises the importance of a workplace having a positive, safe, respectful and inclusive culture. It also highlights that there is a serious risk of repercussions and financial burdens, particularly settlement payments, if a bullying culture is present.

Employers should ensure that the correct policies and procedures are in place to expose those creating a bullying culture and to provide protection, in particular confidentiality and support, to whistleblowers in the workplace. Employers should be proactive when they receive reports of bullying or negative behaviour and have policies which reflect this, so employees feel able to come forward with complaints. Furthermore, if a bullying culture is uncovered and made known to the wider public, not only could it be damaging for the employer’s reputation, but employers may find it harder to recruit in the future. There is no doubt that all employees deserve to feel safe and respected at work and this situation highlights that it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that that is the case.

For further information or to discuss this case, get in touch with our employment law and HR team or call 0800 652 8025.


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