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Sixty-four per cent of UK employees would blow the whistle on their employers if internal reports of illegal or inappropriate activities were ignored, according to figures released by the Business Software Alliance (BSA).

Twenty-seven percent of the 2004 adults surveyed by YouGov claimed they would report cases of illegal software use, an offence that can result in penalties such as imprisonment, substantial fines and the confiscation of assets for the negligent company.

Thirty-four percent would report tax evasion, 71 per cent would report fraud, 76 per cent would report theft, and 87 per cent would report bullying or harassment.

The research shows that businesses and employees are more concerned than ever about ethical behaviour in the workplace, says the BSA.

Nearly half of those surveyed (46 per cent) said their company was more ethically responsible than three years ago, in comparison to just 14 per cent who felt their company was less concerned with ethical business practice. One in three employees were happier to report illegal or inappropriate activity than three years ago, compared to just 10 per cent who feel the opposite.

The figures reveal that 49 per cent of UK employees have come across illegal or inappropriate activities at work and 64 per cent would report problems to an external body if their internal reports were ignored. Forty-two percent felt that if their customers knew they were using illegal software, the customers would be less inclined to do business with them.

Disgruntled workers are even more likely to report illegal goings-on. Sixty-five percent would consider reporting the company if they felt their employer treated them unfairly, and more than one in four (27 per cent) said that large salary rises for the board or poor salary reviews for staff could spur them to act.

"Employees are often concerned that reporting malpractice in the workplace could impact negatively on their careers," BSA regional nanager Northern Europe said Siobhan Carroll said. "While we would encourage employees to speak to their managers if possible, we have found that our initiative at the BSA, which allows informants to disclose details of illegal software use anonymously, does encourage people to come forward with information."

There are laws in place to protect staff from action by employers in the event of whistleblowing.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 can protect employees who report their employers' criminal offences or failure to comply with any legal obligation. If sacked, an employee could bring a case before an Employment Tribunal.

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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