Three out of four whistleblowers who raise concerns of wrongdoing at work with their managers have their claims ignored, an analysis of cases has found.
Files of 1,000 workers who approached a whistleblowing helpline for advice also showed that 15% were eventually sacked from their jobs while many others were bullied, ostracised or victimised.
Cathy James, chief executive of the charity Public Concern at Work which runs the helpline, said that the findings show that the legislation meant to protect whistleblowing in Britain needs to be reviewed.
"Ministers and employers say it is vital for an open and transparent workplace culture, but ask the whistleblowers and the story is starkly different: they are gagged in the NHS, arrested in our police forces and blacklisted in many industries.
"The findings demonstrate why speaking up in the workplace may seem futile or dangerous to many individuals. They [employers] are still shooting the messenger and overlooking crucial opportunities to address concerns quickly and effectively," she said.
Academics from the work and employment relations unit at Greenwich University examined the case files of 1,000 workers who had approached the helpline between August 2009 and December 2010. The workers' identities were concealed by the charity.
The researchers found that the typical whistleblower who approached the helpline was a skilled worker or professional who has been employed for less than two years. A third of the whistleblowers surveyed were from the health and social care sectors, while others worked in charities, local government and financial services.
Nearly three quarters of those approaching the helpline claimed that the wrongdoing harmed customers or patients outside the workforce.
The analysis found that 74% of whistleblowers who called the helpline said that after having complained to their line manager about a serious concern, nothing had been done as a result of their complaint.
Nearly one in every six employees - 15% - who had approached the charity were eventually dismissed from their jobs, the analysis found.
Seth Freedman, who passed his concerns to the Guardian that the wholesale gas market worth £300bn had been manipulated by traders, said little was done by his line managers at ICIS Heren when after he had first complained to them.
He worked as a reporter at the firm, whose reports are the basis for the price at which gas is bought and sold, and claims he told managers they were publishing prices that had been distorted by traders. He was sacked in December of last year but is now suing the company for automatic unfair dismissal of a whistleblower.
"In my case, despite having followed the correct procedure and my company claiming they had no problem with my making disclosures to the regulator and media, it was clear from the off that I would be ostracised, victimised and ultimately sacked," he said. A spokesman for ICIS Heren declined to comment.
Whistleblowing legislation is currently being reviewed and a government consultation held to investigate whether the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 is failing to protect those who speak out from being victimised, harassed and even sacked by their employers.
The employment relations minister Jo Swinson has put forward amendments to the legislation, followed by "a call for evidence" by the government to examine whether the act is, as campaigners claim, not "fit for purpose".
Critics have claimed that the proposed amendments will still leave workers exposed and that changes to legal aid will make it much more expensive for whistleblowers to take their cases through to tribunals or courts.
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