Andrew Dane

What is ‘Whistleblowing’?

Whistleblowing is when an employee or worker, or a group of employees or workers knows, or suspects, there is some wrongdoing occurring within the organisation, usually illegal or dishonest practices, and alerts the employer or the relevant authority accordingly. Relevant authorities are likely to be a regulatory body for example the Health & Safety Executive or the Financial Services Authority. In companies, however, an employee disclosing information in an inappropriate manner, for example, contacting the media, could result in disciplinary action being taken against the employee, which may result in dismissal. Employees who whistleblow are protected by the Public Information Disclosure Act 1998 {PIDA} Any employee who takes action under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 is protected from any detriment in relation to any allegations that are made in good faith.

The PIDA 1998 was passed when a series of official enquiries revealed that disasters and scandals, such as the Bristol Royal Infirmary heart operations or the Zeebrugge disaster, may have been prevented if workers who knew about the dangers had not been too frightened to to ‘blow the whistle’.

More recent wrongdoings have been the MPs’ expenses and failings in Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust.

In the present economic climate there have been other examples of whistleblowing in the financial sector.

The Deputy Chairman of the Financial Services Authority who resigned after being accused of terminating the employment of a senior executive who ‘blew the whistle’ by warning of excessive risk taking at the Bank HBOS.

A report published by Public Concern at Work looked at the first ten years of PIDA showed that most of the calls to the helpline came from from:-

  • Health and Social Care sector 29%
  • 26% relating to financial malpractice
  • Public safety 12%
  • Financial sector 6%

Some general examples of situations in which it might be appropriate for an employee to report a wrongdoing include:-

  • a breach, or potential breach of Health & Safety legislation
  • financial irregularities
  • harassment of a colleague, customer or other individual
  • damage to the environment
  • the committing of a criminal offence
  • payents in exchange for awarding contracts
  • exposing fraud

This list is not exhaustive as there are many more potential examples of transgressions which may be the subject of whistleblowing.

The whistleblower is usually not directly personally affected by the danger or criminality. Whistleblowing occurs when a worker raises a concern about a danger or illegality that affects others, for example members of the public.

The disclosure does not have to be about the alleged illegal behaviour of the employer, alhough it often is. The disclosure could be about a fellow employee, client or any third party.

Since the case of Parkins v Sudexho Ltd [2002] IRLR 109, EAT employees have been able to make a protected disclosure about a breach of their own Contract of Employment. However, the Government has decided that the whistleblowing legislation was not intended to cover alleged breaches of an individual’s own Contract of Employment and intends to amend the PIDA.

There is a section {5.3} on the Form ET1 Originating Application to the Employment Tribunal whch allows the claimant to make a Protected Disclosure. If the claim is successful then compensation is uncapped.

It is highly recommended that if you do not currently have a ‘Whistleblowing Policy’ in your organisation that you should give serious consideration doing so.

Please contact me for details about how you can introduce an up-to-date Whistleblowing Policy into your organisation.

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