Bullying, fraud and sexual harassment claims made by Sheffield City Council whistleblowers

Sheffield City Council says it holds its staff to the highest standards.
Sheffield City Council says it holds its staff to the highest standards.
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Sexual harassment, bullying and fraud are among the allegations raised in a “whistleblowing log” at one of Yorksire’s largest local authorities.

A new report by Sheffield City Council outlines cases where employees have “blown the whistle” on their colleagues and managers. Bosses say having the scheme helps to avoid the cost and “reputational damage” caused by the cases being dealt with by tribunals or external auditors.

This reduces the risk of involvement by external bodies such as tribunals and the external auditor, or the risk of reputational damage.

Sheffield City Council describes its whistleblowing policy

Cases highlighted include one worker who had their agency contract terminated after concerns about “management conduct on social media” and another disciplined after posting defamatory comments on Facebook against a fellow employee.

And a manager received calls regarding an employee off sick who was seen working outside the council with no apparent health issues. The employee was spoken to in a “sickness meeting”.

In one case, staff raised concerns about one of their colleagues bullying and harassing another member of staff. They used the whistleblowing route because they felt uncomfortable saying anything in public.

The manager was advised to “use the Dignity and Respect Policy” with the alleged employee.

There was also an anonymous claim of witnessing sexual harassment in the workplace, which was resolved internally.

Other whistleblowing included allegations of accounting irregularities, claims of fraud and whether a worker dealt with a complex funding issue appropriately. All three were unproven.

Eight whistleblowing allegations dating back over the past four years were described in an appendix to the report. Although a number of allegations are initially raised as ‘whistleblowing’, they are often managed through different procedures, the council says.

Sheffield City Council says it is committed to “the highest standards of ethics, transparency, integrity and accountability” but encourages employees to come forward if they are concerned. In a report, officers say: “The council seeks to conduct its affairs in a responsible manner taking into account the requirements of the proper use of public funds and the standards required in public life.

“The whistleblowing policy enables employees to raise concerns that are in the public interest so that they may be investigated and where appropriate acted upon.”

There is no legal requirement for the council to have a whistleblowing policy but officers say it helps to avoid “expensive claims” by picking up on issues at an early stage. The report added: “It helps to ensure that all employees, particularly managers, understand the rights of those who blow the whistle.

“A whistleblowing policy demonstrates the council understands the importance of being aware of any wrongdoing or malpractice and of putting it right and makes it more likely that concerns will be raised internally.

“This reduces the risk of involvement by external bodies such as tribunals and the external auditor, or the risk of reputational damage.”

The council’s Audit and Standards Committee will discuss the report at a meeting on Thursday.

If employees raise an alleged wrongdoing with their employer, they are protected in certain circumstances, such as a claim made in the public interest, under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.