The Covid-19 crisis has given rise to fast changing laws and regulations, and new loopholes and opportunities for fraud have emerged. Within a few weeks of the furlough scheme’s introduction, Protect has seen a rising trend in calls from whistleblowers concerned their employer is acting unlawfully.
Whistleblowers will be vital in policing this scheme to ensure that tax payers are not defrauded out of vital public funds.
Here is a summary of some of the cases (with changed names) from the Advice Line:
Being asked to come back and work as a “volunteer”
The majority of the cases we have received to our Advice Line have focused on situations where workers have either been asked or told to go back to work even though they are part of the job retention scheme.
Craig works for a small company where all the staff have been furloughed. He and other staff have been asked to carry on working for the company as “volunteers”, so the work will be unpaid. Craig has raised this as part of a group of concerned colleagues, but his managers have responded to say that such arrangements are legitimate and that they took legal advice.
Some of our cases show whistleblowers being aware that their employer is breaching the rules across the company
We have also seen cases where whistleblowers have become aware of actions or plans to breach the Furlough rules that doesn’t involve themselves personally being affected.
Timothy works in the finance department of a small company. During his work organising the company accounts he notices that he and 5 other members of staff (including a director) have been placed on furlough leave. All the staff on the scheme are still working for the company. Timothy raised his concerns with his line manager, the Finance Director. The response was to remove Timothy from the scheme, but the line manager refused to remove anyone else as he felt bodies such as HMRC would not have the resources to prosecute all those companies that breached the rules.
Dismissal, victimisation or threats when the concerns is raised
Worryingly, yet unsurprisingly we have seen whistleblowers threatened, victimised or dismissed once they have raised their concerns.
Some have been threatened with dismissal if they object to their employers plans:
Eloise is a senior manager working in financial services. The Chief executive sent an email to all directors saying that staff will be furloughed (this is around 30 people) despite the fact that all staff are working from home and that as the staff work manly from sales commission which falls outside of the scheme. Eloise raised her concerns with the Chief Executive who threatened her with dismissal if she objected to the plan.
Other whistleblowers have been dismissed after voicing their concerns.
Mohammad was furloughed by his employer but was then asked to carry on working. When Mohammad refused to work as it went against the Government guidelines his employer threatened him with dismissal. A few days later Mohammad received a letter making him redundant as the company lacked the cash flow to pay his wages.
What a concerned worker can do if concerned:
Check the Government Guidance
Though the guidance has changed many times it is a good resource to look at what the Government have produced for workers, and what they expect from employers. This will give any concerned worker an idea of whether what the employer is doing breaches this or not.
Consider raising it first internally
- As a first port of call speak with your line manager or supervisor.
- With named contacts in your organisations Whistleblowing or Speak Up policy (see Protect’s webpage for information on raising concerns with your employer). These can include directors, compliance personnel and board members.
Raising the concerns externally
If you do not feel that internal channels will be effective, or if you have already raised the concern internally, you can contact HMRC on their Fraud Reporting website via their online form. You can also contact Protect for advice through our online form or by calling 020 3117 2520.