Under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, workers who make a disclosure about unlawful activity  are protected from detriment and termination of their employment because of making that disclosure.

Making a disclosure

The types of wrongdoing that can form a whistleblowing disclosure are:

  • That a criminal act is being committed
  • That health and safety is being endangered
  • That there is risk or actual damage to the environment
  • That there is a miscarriage of justice
  • That a legal obligation is being breached
  • That any of the above is being covered up

There are various criteria that need to be met in the making of the disclosure:

  • The whistleblower must have a reasonable belief  that any of the above acts of wrongdoing are taking place, have taken place, or are likely to take place
  • The disclosure must be made to an appropriate person  which is either the worker’s employer, or a prescribed person as set out in the legislation.  This includes organisations such as the Health & Safety Executive and the Charity Commission
  • A disclosure  will only be protected under the law if it is made to the press in exceptional and specified circumstances
  • The whistleblower must make the disclosure in the public interest

The last criterion was added in 2014, and earlier case law about workers having protection as whisteblowers where they raised breaches of legal obligations that only affected them should not be considered to be good law.

Protections for whisteblowers

If a whistleblower is dismissed because of whistleblowing they have various important legal protections:

  • They can bring a claim of unfair dismissal without the two years’ service that is normally required
  • They can apply to the Employment Tribunal for interim relief ie to be reinstated to their job pending the full hearing of their case
  • There is no cap on the damages that can be awarded to them, although damages must reflect their actual losses
  • They are entitled to compensation for injury to feelings in the same way as in other discrimination cases

Whistblowers may also bring tribunal claims if they are subjected to detriment and uncapped damages including compensation for injury to feelings will equally apply. 

The Tribunal process must be started within 3 months of the date of the treatment about which the complaint is made ie through ACAS Early Conciliation.

It is strongly advisable that employers should have a whistleblowing policy to which whistleblowers can be directed and should seek to foster an environment where the raising of genuine concerns by workers is encouraged.

Workers cannot be prevented from whistleblowing by any kind of “gagging” clause  – whether in their contract, or in a settlement agreement.

For more information, please contact our Employment team

Posted on 22/06/2016 in Legal Updates

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