Whistleblowing is vital for upholding transparency and ethics in the workplace. In the UK, blowing the whistle is protected under employment law, with both the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) and the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) making it unlawful for employers to be unfairly treated because they have disclosed wrongdoing. However, to ensure protection, there are several rules that a whistleblower must adhere to.
When blowing the whistle, the information must be disclosed to a prescribed person and the disclosure must be made without malice. It is also essential for employees to understand the concept of a “qualifying disclosure” and the requirement that the information disclosed is in the public interest. Below, we have delved into these crucial elements of UK employment law to help employees safeguard their rights when deciding to blow the whistle.
Qualifying Disclosure – What Does it Mean?
In the context of UK employment law, for a disclosure of information to be considered a protected disclosure, it must be a “qualifying disclosure”. Not all information that is shared will qualify for legal protection. If the disclosure is not classed as protected disclosure and you suffer detriment or get dismissed for blowing the whistle, you may not have the option to bring a claim to the Employment Tribunal. It is crucially important that employees understand what qualifying disclosure is before they blow the whistle.
- General Public Interest – An employee has the freedom to reveal any wrongdoing in the workplace that does not abide by recognised employment law ethics. However, there should be a reasonable belief that the disclosure of information is in the public interest.
- Employment Law Violations – The disclosure of information should relate to specific types of wrongdoing. This includes; a criminal offence, failure to comply with any legal obligations, miscarriages of justice, health and safety violations, damage to the environment, and the cover-up of any of these.
- Reasonable Belief – When disclosing information, an employee must have a genuine and reasonable belief that the information they are disclosing falls under one or more of these categories. This belief is critical in determining the legitimacy of the disclosure.
The Public Interest Requirement
When making a whistleblowing claim, there are several ways employers will attempt to defend themselves. From stating that the case was not made in “good faith” to arguing that the detriment or dismissal was the result of unrelated factors, it can be difficult to win a whistleblowing case. Another common way employers try to discredit a claim is by stating that any disclosure was not made in the public interest.
The requirement for the disclosure to be in the general public interest underscores the importance of whistleblowers not merely serving their personal interests but acting in the broader interests of society. There are some key points to be aware of regarding the public interest requirement of qualifying disclosure;
- Broad Significance – The disclosure must have a broader significance beyond the individual whistleblower’s concerns. It should relate to matters that affect the public, a group of people or society at large.
- Preventing Harm – Disclosed information should aim to prevent harm, protect public health and safety or promote the greater good. It should not be motivated primarily by personal gain or grievances.
- Legitimate Concerns – Whistleblowers must demonstrate that their concerns are legitimate and well-founded, showing that the information they are disclosing genuinely serves the public interest.
- Balancing Act – UK employment law seeks to strike a balance between protecting whistleblowers and ensuring that disclosures are in the public interest, rather than being used as a means to settle workplace disputes.
Why These Criteria Matter
Understanding the criteria of a qualifying disclosure and the public interest requirement is of paramount importance for whistleblowers. It is highly recommended that you seek legal advice before blowing the whistle, especially if you do not know much about whistleblowing legislation. Ensuring you qualify for protected disclosure matters for reasons such as;
Simply put, whistleblowers who do not meet the criteria may not receive legal protection. Unfortunately, employees may not be able to make an Employment Tribunal claim if they have not considered whistleblowing laws before voicing their concerns about wrongdoing. Having robust legal protection is crucial to being shielded from retaliation, whether this is in the form of detrimental treatment or dismissal, offering a safety net when blowing the whistle.
A clear understanding of what qualifies as a legitimate disclosure is essential for whistleblowers. It empowers them to make well-informed decisions about reporting wrongdoing in the workplace. Clarity regarding the criteria of qualifying disclosure ensures that whistleblowers can confidently step forward when they believe an act of wrongdoing has happened, is happening or will happen, knowing they are doing so within the bounds of the law.
The criteria, especially the public interest requirement, serves as a compass for whistleblowers, directing their actions toward matters of significant societal concern. By focusing on public interest matters, whistleblowers become catalysts for positive changes, accountability and the greater good. This ensures that whistleblowing is not merely a tool for personal grievances but a force for addressing critical issues that affect many.
Protection Against Malicious Claims
The definition of what amounts to a disclosure and rules that any whistleblower must adhere to play a pivotal role in safeguarding the integrity of the whistleblowing process. They help prevent individuals from misusing whistleblowing protections for personal gain or ulterior motives. This protection ensures the system remains fair, encouraging genuine whistleblowers to come forward while discouraging malicious claims that could undermine trust in the process.
Making a Whistleblowing Claim
Safeguarding whistleblowers and their rights under UK employment law is essential for upholding ethical standards in the workplace. By ensuring that disclosures meet the criteria of a qualifying disclosure and genuinely serve the public interest, employees can confidently report wrongdoing without fear of retaliation. Understanding the legal requirements when blowing the whistle is key to ensuring effective protection under the law.
To get some whistleblowing advice from an experienced employment law specialist, contact Damian McCarthy today. Over the years, Damian has been regularly instructed on high-profile whistleblowing and unfair dismissal claims, and he fights hard to get the results needed. With a client-focused approach, Damian can get to the heart of a case very quickly and develop a winning strategy. He will guide you through the difficulties that you will face and be honest throughout the entire process.
If you are a whistleblower in London, where Damian is able to do so, he will provide a free initial assessment and advise you on how to proceed.