What We’ve Learned From The 2014 Public Concern At Work Report

Public Concern at Work (PCAW), the popular UK whistleblowing protection charity‘ has published its new report detailing the results of Employment Tribunal cases that took place between 2011-13.

PCAW provides a exploration of all employment tribunal activities, with particular emphasis placed on how tribunals have protected the rights of whistle-blowers in accordance with The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA); legislation that is vital for ensuring the safety of employees across different sectors of all UK industries.

Read on to learn of the outcome assessed by the report.

Details of the report

A total of 2,969 cases consisting of both full and preliminary hearings were evaluated. This analysis found that just 1,260 of these cases were final rulings granted after a full hearing was conducted.

Moreover, as few as 12% of these cases were actually successful on grounds that reflect the authority held by the PIDA. Other forms of evidence were responsible for a further 26% of the cases, and the remaining 62% consisted of either claimant losses or the case getting thrown out by the tribunal.

Positive outcomes

Whistleblowing cases were generally very successful between 2011-13, with a total of £7.3 million being awarded to claimants during this time. Although this figure is not close to the full amount provided in whistleblowing cases as the majority of them are settled before a tribunal is necessary.

PCAW findings also concluded that acts of whistleblowing are increasingly likely to be reported to parliament by officials employed across all areas of UK business. This suggests that employees now feel comfortable enough to voice their concerns without feeling anxiety over the consequences of whistleblowing.

Negative outcomes

There has unfortunately also been a number of negative results recorded by PCAW. One major concern is that 11% of all whisteblowing instances relate to scenarios in which an employer considers a employee to have acted in ‘bad faith’. This figure is considerably higher than the last PCAW assessment conducted in 2009.

Bad faith is a rebuttal that states the employee acted in a manner showing disregard for the overall welfare of the business, which if proven can refute a claim or overturn a tribunal verdict at a second hearing.

The increase in bad faith cases suggests employers are placing blame too readily on an employee’s motives rather than judging whether the claim is valid enough to bypass an individual’s concerns to be in the interest of the general public.

This kind of reaction from employers was at the heart of PCAW’s recent effort to encourage the government to remove the ‘Good Faith’ test from being part of employment law legislation, thereby eradicating the possibility of an employer claiming that an employee acted in bad faith as a result of whisteblowing. The effort has thus far been reasonably successful, as the law has been altered so that employers are now being actively encouraged to focus on the content of whisteblowing cases without expressing undue judgement on their intentions.

The report found that claims of discrimination and harassment in the workplace are the most frequent forms of complaint relating to whistleblowing cases.

Claimant issues

PCAW also outlined the serious concerns that many claimants have in regard to tribunals. One area of concern is that a massive 56% of claimants do not have legal representation when lauching their claim. This unsurprisingly makes them far less likely to be successful at tribunal.

This is a concern made much worse by a trend that shows an increase in the tribunal fees set for claimants, even though respondent fee claims are considerably lower. The PCAW report alleges that the difference in costs is being used as a sly way to deliberately discourage claimants from taking a claim to tribunal.

The result of tribunal fees

Since July 2013 claimants have been responsible for paying the bulk of tribunal fees, and it comes as no surprise that the PCAW report records a 20% drop in claims getting made since the change, with the total cost of all whistleblowing cases between now reaching £750 million.

Interim relief assessment

Interim Relief is a process that allows an employee to make a reinstatement claim if there is good reason to believe that a second hearing may result in the first ruling getting overturned. An Interim Relief application must be processed within seven days of the dismissal, and if successful, the Tribunal will issue a ‘continuation order’, instructing the employer to continue payment of the claimant’s wages up until the next tribunal ruling.

The report found that Interim Relief cases were responsible for 57 of the 2,969 claims, although just 7% of them actually ruled in favour of the claimant.

Whistleblowing claims across each sector

The report found that 66% of all whistleblowing cases that evoke The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 were made in the private sector. The health and care sectors are responsible for 21% of the overall number of cases brought before tribunal as the majority of whistleblowing actions are resolved independently before a tribunal hearing is required.

The education sector has also seen an increase in the overall number of whisteblowing claims made since 2009, rising from 5% to 7% of all cases recorded. The possible cause of this increase is the UK’s lack of a local governing authority that would monitor the increasing volume of academies and free schools located across Britain.

Additional results

Other important factors revealed by the PCAW report include the revelation that safety concerns account for 12% of all whistleblowing cases, and that claims of financial misconduct are responsible for 9%.

Another interesting revelation contained in the report is that 91% of whistleblowing cases find an employee raising their concerns in the place of employment before seeking legal action for whisteblowing. Although a surprising 81% of these worries are not made directly to an employer but to a different authority within the organisation.

Please be aware the PACW state that an all-inclusive legal review of all data contained in the report is not possible due to the lack of available access to an open register of claims.

Police Dog Handling Trio Claim Whistleblowing Discrimination

In an ongoing Whistleblowing case in Bristol, three female police-dog handlers have taken Avon and Somerset Police to tribunal with allegations that they were harassed by ‘sexist male colleagues’ following their decision to speak out about witnessing animal cruelty to police-dogs. This includes an alleged incident in which fellow police officer Paul Nesbit-Bell threw a dog against a wall.

The three women have made 95 claims against Avon and Somerset Police between them. Mandy Gornicki, 51, has said that she and her colleagues were ‘ostracised’ by their peers in the police force, and were verbally abused by male peers behind their backs on several occasions. A fourth female officer is also alleged to have been harassed but has declined to participate in any legal action.

Ms Gornicki’s fellow claimants Ann-Marie Williams and Erica Martins are due to express their views as the six week tribunal continues.

Hostile behaviour within the force

Ms Gornicki, who has eighteen years of policing experience, has claimed that it was the women’s act of whistleblowing that started a generally hostile attitude towards them, which involved a series of petty instances intended to make their working life difficult.

This includes an occasion in which Ms Gorkicki was deliberately given an inadequate dog kennel for a puppy she was training even though her male peers received brand new ones. Ms Gornicki says that instances like these were designed to cause her to fail in her job as a dog handler.

She also believes that she was deliberately given a dog with behavioural problems in order to hinder the speed of her overall performance and make her look incompetent in the process. The goal of such treatment was to ultimately dishearten her to the point of leaving the force.

Ms Gornicki also believes there is sufficient evidence to prove that she and her fellow whistleblowers were intentionally separated during training courses in order to prevent further instances of whistleblowing between them.

When cross examined during her tribunal hearing, Ms Gornicki faced accusations that she is exaggerating her testimony through amplified examples of treatment that was be no means exclusive to her.

Sexist Attitudes of male officers

Ms Gornicki also claims that sexist comments were slyly directed towards the three women. This includes an alleged occasion when chief inspector Paul Mogg suggested women were not able to match the skill of male officers during riot situations. This comment was likely directed at Ms Gornicki personally because she and Inspector Mogg had worked alongside each other during a riot in the recent past.

Sheold the tribunal that the sexism experienced by the three women also centred around hostility to animals in response to their whistleblowing as such cruelty would not have happened in the presence of male dog handlers. Ms Gornicki claims this was done in an attempt to antagonise the claimants and intimate them into leaving the force.

These allegations come during an already controversial period for Avon and Somerset Police, as chief constable, Nick Gargan, is currently awaiting a misconduct hearing on claims he made ‘inappropriate advances’ towards junior female officers.