More protection for whistleblowers

A whistleblower is someone who reports certain types of wrongdoing in relation to things that they have seen at work. The wrongdoing disclosed must be in the public interest. This means that it must affect others e.g. the general public.

Whistleblowers are protected by law and should not be treated unfairly or lose their jobs because they blow their whistle.

If someone is a worker they have legal protection they are:

  • an employee
  • trainee
  • an agency worker
  • a member of a limited liability partnership

A whistleblower is protected by law if they report any of the following:

  • a criminal offence e.g. fraud
  • that's someone's health and safety is at risk
  • a miscarriage of justice
  • that the company is breaking the law
  • that they believe someone is covering up wrongdoing

Personal grievances such as bullying, harassment and discrimination, whilst important to the individual, are not covered by whistleblowing law in general terms unless the particular case is in the public interest.

The technical term for whistleblowing is making a 'protected disclosure'.

The Supreme Court has recently considered an important case on this subject involving a Royal Mail employee. During her probationary period the employee told her manager that Ofcom rules and advertising policies were being breached. Rather than investigate the allegations, the manager reminded her that she was only working her probationary period and forced the employee to admit that she had made a mistake and to withdraw her allegations. During this meeting he also raised for the first time that she was not meeting performance targets.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the employee was absent from work due to work-related stress. A different manager was appointed to oversee the termination of her employment. This manager was given details of her so-called poor performance but was not told that she had made the whistleblowing disclosures. The employee was dismissed. She argued that she had been dismissed because of these whistleblowing disclosures.

The Supreme Court upheld her case and held that Employment Tribunals must 'penetrate through the invention' to find the real reason for any dismissal.

This is an important decision because it could apply to all dismissals i.e. not just those involving allegations and whistleblowing. Employment Tribunals will be able to look behind any decision to establish whether there has been any attempt to deliberately mislead. It is thus vital for any person making the decision to dismiss to ensure that they have all of the fact not just those presented to them. Managers must not take information at face value.

To discuss this or any other employment related issue, contact us.

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