Most people have a general idea that whistleblowing is about reporting something wrong that is happening in the workplace, but many aren’t sure where the line is drawn between whistleblowing and a normal internal grievance, what whistleblowing protection there is or who this actually applies to. Here’s our basic guide to whistleblowing.
What is whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing is making a disclosure of information, sometimes internally or sometimes to an external body like a regulator or even the police. It is a disclosure about some sort of malpractice or wrongdoing taking place at work. The disclosure has to be in the public interest in order to qualify for whistleblowing protection, and this is what normally makes the difference between an internal grievance (which is not generally of concern to the wider public) and a genuine whistleblowing situation.
In order to help encourage workers who discover these kinds of malpractice or corruption issues at work come forward and report what they have discovered, either to their employer or to the relevant authorities, legislation was introduced to protect these workers. It is therefore unlawful to dismiss a worker or subject them to a detriment because they have blown the whistle by making a disclosure in the public interest.
Who is protected?
Much of the protection involved in employment law is relevant only to employees, but in this case it applies to workers, and in the context of whistleblowing that can include not only those directly employed, but anyone else who works for the organisation in another capacity, such as agency temps, freelancers, contractors and casuals.
What kind of disclosure counts?
In order to avoid workers claiming protection in the event of any complaint they wish to make about anything at work, the types of disclosures which qualify as ‘protected’ are specifically laid out and are as follows:
- criminal offences;
- failure to comply with a legal obligation;
- miscarriages of justice;
- risks to health or safety; or
- environmental damage.
Whistleblowing could therefore involve health and safety, regulatory compliance, corruption or similar. But it needs to be something that it would be in the public interest to disclose, which means that personal or group complaints about employment law issues or internal people management procedures or practices normally wouldn’t count as whistleblowing, and neither would a breach of an employment contract.
How a disclosure is made
As well as having to relate to a certain type of concern or wrongdoing, in order to qualify for protection the law is very specific about how the disclosure must be made, and to whom. This is to encourage those workers with genuine concerns to raise them through the appropriate and most effective channels.
Concerns must be raised either with the employer themselves, to a legal adviser (if in the course of taking legal advice), to a specific regulatory body such as the Information Commissioner or the Health and Safety Executive, or in some circumstances, to the police or a local MP
Disclosures cannot be made for personal gain, must be genuinely believed to be true and it must be reasonable for the person to disclose in the way they have. All of this is to prevent malicious and/or completely unfounded concerns which could seriously damage a business.
What protection do workers get?
Workers can’t be dismissed for making a protected disclosure, as even with very short service this would be automatically unfair dismissal. They also can’t suffer a ‘detriment’, which would be less favourable treatment because of their disclosure.
If either of those things happen, they can bring a complaint to an employment tribunal, and there is no ceiling on the amount of compensation available, taking into account individual personal losses.
If you need advice about whistleblowing and how to deal with it, do get in touch.