Whistleblowing at work

‘Whistleblowing’ in employment situations is when you have good reason to be aware of suspected wrongdoing at work, and wish to report it. The proper legal jargon for this is ‘making a protected disclosure in the public interest’. It is governed by the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the specialist Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, as amended.

It can cover any situation where you have a reasonable belief that your employer, manager or director is doing something that is wrong or unlawful. If you are victimised or dismissed because you actually disclosed something covered by the relevant legislation, you will be protected and could claim compensation, or automatically claim unfair dismissal, regardless of the length of your employment.

It should be noted that the belief about the existence of the wrongdoing does not have to actually be correct, just reasonably and honestly held. It has to be the actual reason for the dismissal or poor treatment, which you have suffered.

How should you go about ‘blowing the whistle’?

This is very important and something on which legal advice is necessary, depending on the precise facts. If you feel you can do so, you should obtain your employer’s written internal whistleblowing policy from the HR department. All substantial reputable employers should have one and provide it to you upon request.

If this is not a practical option, either because you feel that the employer will cover up the wrongdoing, or because they do nothing after an initial request, you will need to contact a ‘prescribed body or person’. We can assist you with who the relevant body/person may be in your circumstances. It is important to get this step right.

Disclosure must be ‘in the public interest’

A vital element in the relevant statute is that the disclosure that you make must be ‘in the public interest’. What this means is that it should not be done for selfish motives of gaining revenge or monetary gain or for blackmail against your employer.

You must in practice act in good faith throughout. Of course, you can still claim substantial compensation, but that must not have been your underlying motive for making the disclosure from the outset.

What happens then?

That is when we would consider issuing tribunal proceedings after taking necessary preparatory steps through ACAS as well. We would always try to reach a negotiated settlement with your employer, but sometimes employers are just too obstinate or unrealistic in their attitude.

It is important to comply fully with the ACAS ‘early conciliation’ procedure to maximise your compensation and improve our ability to negotiate on your behalf at a later stage, after the necessary issue of proceedings in the employment tribunal. It is vital to word your claim properly as well to show that you have complied with all procedural requirements, to maximise and include all claims.

Should you disclose anything to the press or on social media?

It is only in exceptional circumstances that I would normally recommend making your concerns public via the media. I can advise on when that might be appropriate, and the consequences of doing so. Every case is different, but disclosure in this manner could result in the loss of the special whistleblower-protection under the employment statute. You could also lay yourself open to threats of legal proceedings for defamation (libel) by your employer. (See a separate article on defamation).

Why should you come to us?

We have experience of dealing with whistleblowing cases, both more straightforward, and the most complex. We have represented senior executives in the City financial sector, and other high-level professionals (including surgeons and other senior NHS employees) in the public sector. But all such cases are complex because of the technical legal background, and have much at stake for clients in terms of their reputation and employability for the future.

Please direct all enquiries to our solicitor Kuldeep S. Clair.

Contact Kuldeep Clair:

Phone: +44 (0) 20 7822 8599

Mobile: +44 (0) 7484 61 4090

Fax: +44 (0) 870 23520 4427

E-mail: kuldeep@sterlinglawyers.co.uk