Whistleblowing | BBC reporter sacked after raising Covid breach concerns, tribunal hears

BBC reporter sacked after raising Covid breach concerns, tribunal hears

A former BBC reporter was sacked after blowing the whistle on Covid restrictions being breached, an employment tribunal has heard.

Ian Stringer was hired by BBC Leicester in 2008 a sports reporter covering Leicester City FC. He had previously also appeared on the BBC as a contestant on The Apprentice.

Stringer was suspended in 2021 and sacked the following year on the grounds of misconduct.

It has been said at the tribunal that Stringer was sacked after failing to declare some commercial relationships to the BBC, including one with a car leasing company he was allegedly promoting on his personal social media accounts in exchange for free use of high-end vehicles including a BMW and an Audi.

Mark Moran, a BBC figure who made the decision to sack Stringer, told the proceedings: "The fact somebody has, for whatever reason, been given the use of two very nice cars over a long period of time and didn't declare it or have a conversation with their manager about is just wrong”.

However, Stringer counter claims that he was unfairly dismissed, losing his job after making a protected disclosure.

During the hearing, Stringer claimed that, in July 2021, station editor Kamlesh Purohit had made a coworker come into work despite having been “pinged” by the NHS Covid app – the infamous notification requiring anyone who’d come into contact with the virus to self-isolate.

"I felt bullied because I made a protected disclosure” Stringer told the tribunal, adding that working relationships became strained after he blew the whistle.

Stringer said of Purohit: "We had a difficult and challenging relationship. Post disclosure, it got considerably worse and toxic - it was bullying."

Stringer alleged that the BBC’s probe into his social media posts coincided with his decision to raise concerns about the alleged breaches of Covid rules.

"It is odd timing,” he explained.

“My social media had not been a problem for so many years and then [the social media probe] just happens a few days after my disclosure."

The case continues.

Workplace misconduct ‘rife but underreported’

With the case proceeding, a conclusion is yet to be reached on Stringer’s claims. But new research shows that fears of possible retaliation and reliable process still hold many people back from reporting workplace misconduct. And with examples of the blowback against the care home employee in the case above, it’s easy to understand why these concerns exist.

However, more than half (52%) of employees say they’re now more aware of the importance of whistleblowing than before due to media reporting on high profile cases.

That’s according to a recent survey of 2,000 employees commissioned by Personio, Europe’s leading HR software company for SMEs.

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With 43% of employees having seen or experienced some kind of inappropriate or illegal behaviour at work, the research reveals that workplace misconduct is common, and often unchecked.

One in ten (10%) employees have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment at work, but nearly half (49%) of these did not report it. Similarly, almost one third (30%) have seen or experienced bullying at work, with 44% of these not reporting it.

Culture

The data points to the role that culture plays in creating a space where people feel they can safely report issues via the appropriate channels.

43% of employees feel worried about retaliation or retribution if they were to report an issue, and only 56% of employees feel confident that sensitive workplace misconduct situations would be treated properly and fairly by their organisation.

Trust in leadership

Concerns are eased in organisations where people trust leadership to listen to and support them. Employees in higher trust organisations are more likely to have reported inappropriate or illegal behaviours (69%) compared to those that don't (58%).

But, trust within organisations is clearly lacking. Only half (52%) of employees say they trust their senior leadership, and on the flip side, one in ten (10%) strongly distrust their leadership. Meanwhile, three in ten (30%) employees believe more would be achieved if they went to the media about workplace misconduct, rather than to their own management team.

Crucially, putting in place anonymous ways to blow the whistle would also help ease employees’ fears. Nearly one in five (18%) don’t believe that their organisation would protect their anonymity if they reported workplace misconduct, and the same number (18%) do not feel there is an accessible or anonymous process in place at work to report misconduct.

Speaking previously to HR Grapevine, Pete Cooper, Director of People Partners & DEI at Personio, commented: “The extent of workplace misconduct is worrying, and the rate at which these go unreported is even more so. It’s clear that having whistleblowing channels in place is only one small part of the puzzle to make workplaces safer.


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"A workplace culture that prioritises trust and transparency is critical. People need to understand that these reporting processes exist, feel safe using them, and have trust in their organisation to listen to and act on their concerns.”

Cooper continued: “Whistleblowing carries a lot of stigma, but it shouldn’t. It’s about protecting people and businesses, which is incredibly important. And, as demonstrated in recent news stories, failing to appropriately report or manage reports of misconduct can result in extremely damaging consequences both on a personal level and for entire organisations.

“Whilst the expected publication of the UK government’s review into whistleblowing frameworks will be a step in the right direction, it will not be a silver bullet or a quick fix. As well as leaning on government guidance and support, businesses should themselves work to build the kind of workplace culture that fosters employee trust and goes above and beyond to put their safety right at the heart of their organisation."



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