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Whistleblowing

The law provides protection to people who whistle-blow. It is not necessarily to establish that you are an employee to gain protection from whistleblowing. The legislation applies equally to workers, agency staff, directors and anyone who is not genuinely self-employed.

The whistle-blowing legislation is quite complex, and it can be difficult to establish that someone who seeks the protection of the law has in fact complied with the technicalities of the law in order to gain such protection.

The law prevents an employer from dismissing or imposing a detriment upon a person who has whistle blown. Sometimes it will be quite clear that an employer has behaved badly because of a whistle-blower. That is somebody with a good work record, suddenly gets picked on shortly after whistleblowing. In other cases it can be more complex and it can be difficult to establish whether there has been a detriment caused by a whistle-blowing disclosure or whether an employee is genuinely being subject to performance reviews and/or disciplinary action for reasons unconnected with the disclosures.

In order to gain protection as a whistle-blower the whistle-blower must have made a protected disclosure of a nature set out below. There is no minimum qualifying period of service, i.e. two years’ service necessary in order to bring a claim under the whistle-blowing legislation. There is no cap on the compensation that can be awarded unlike other unfair dismissal cases.

The person making the disclosure has to have a reasonable belief that the information tends to show that there has been wrongdoing or that wrongdoing is likely to occur.

The disclosure must fall within one or more of the following definitions:

  • that a criminal offence has been or is or will be committed;
  • that a person has is, or is likely to fail to comply with a legal obligation;
  • that a miscarriage of justice has or is likely to occur;
  • that the health and safety of any individual is or likely to be endangered;
  • that the environment has been damaged is being damaged or is likely to be damaged;
  • that information tending to show any of the above has been is being or is likely to be deliberately concealed.

It is not necessary to show that a disclosure has been made in good faith. If however a disclosure is not made in good faith then the amount of compensation may be reduced by up to 25%.

It is however necessary to establish that the protected disclosure is made in the public interest and not merely for personal gain or retribution. This means it must affect others, for example, the general public.

Who should the disclosure be made to? This can be a difficult question to answer because the simple matter of making the disclosure can lead an employer to behave badly. Many organisations have specific whistle-blowing policies and those policies should where practicable be followed by the whistle-blower. However, the law recognises that on some occasions it is not appropriate for the employee to whistle blow to their employer, the law therefore recognises that there can and should be whistle-blowing to prescribed persons or agencies.

The whistle-blowing legislation lists a number of organisations to whom complaints or concerns can be made such as the Health & Safety Executive. Our specialist employment team have a long history of advising whistle-blowers on how to whistle-blow and gain the protection of the law.

Therefore, an employee thinking of whistleblowing or seeking to claim having done should speak to a member of our specialist employment team and seek legal advice to ensure they get the best protection.

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