Whistleblowing is the act of exposing wrongdoing within an organisation and is a courageous step that employees might take to uphold integrity and ethics in the workplace. Understanding whistleblowing law in the UK and knowing the right steps to take are crucial for anyone considering voicing their concerns about something that has happened, is happening or is going to happen in the future.
In this post, we have explored the legal steps for blowing the whistle at work, offering essential whistleblowing advice to help you navigate the process correctly and effectively.
Protection from Whistleblowing Law in the UK
The Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996) plays a crucial role in safeguarding workers who blow the whistle in the UK. This legislation provides protection to ensure that employees can disclose information about wrongdoing without fear of retaliation. It stipulates that it is automatically unfair to dismiss an employee for making a protected disclosure. Additionally, it is unlawful to subject a worker to any detriment for making a disclosure.
These provisions offer robust protection to employees who raise concerns about wrongdoing in their workplace and make what is legally termed as a ‘protected disclosure’. All UK workers are protected when making a protected disclosure from the moment they start their employment. Importantly, the worker disclosing information must have a reasonable belief that their disclosure is in the public interest to be protected by whistleblowing law in the UK.
Step-by-Step Guide to Blowing the Whistle
Embarking on the journey of whistleblowing requires a clear understanding of the process and careful consideration at each step. Here is an overview of the whistleblowing process from an employee perspective, so you can blow the whistle correctly;
Identify the Wrongdoing
The initial and most critical step in whistleblowing is to accurately pinpoint the wrongdoing. This could encompass a range of issues, from criminal offences, miscarriages of justice, health and safety violations, damage to the environment, failure to comply with legal obligations or deliberately concealing any wrongdoing. It is crucial to be specific about the nature of the wrongdoing to ensure that your disclosure is clear and a qualifying disclosure.
Know Your Rights and Protections
When considering whistleblowing, it is crucial to understand the legal protections available to you under the Employment Rights Act 1996. As mentioned above, this Act plays a key role in safeguarding employees who blow the whistle. It ensures that workers can disclose information without fear of adverse consequences. Under this Act, you are protected against dismissal and other forms of unfair treatment that may arise as a result of your whistleblowing.
This knowledge is essential as it empowers you to proceed with confidence, knowing that the law is on your side. The ERA 1996 offers a safety net, encouraging employees to speak out against wrongdoing without the risk of jeopardising their career or workplace relationships. However, it is important to approach whistleblowing with a clear understanding of the correct procedures and channels, as these protections are most effective when disclosures are in full compliance with legal guidelines.
Gathering strong evidence is essential in substantiating your claim. This includes collecting emails, documents, witness statements and any other materials that can corroborate your allegations of wrongdoing. The credibility and impact of your disclosure significantly depends on the quality and relevance of the evidence you present.
Choose the Right Channel for Disclosure
Selecting the appropriate channel for your disclosure is a critical step in the whistleblowing process. The general rule is to first attempt to resolve the issue within your organisation. This typically involves using designated internal channels, such as reporting to a supervisor, manager or through a formal whistleblowing procedure. This internal approach allows an organisation the opportunity to address and rectify the issue directly.
However, if internal resolution is not feasible, for instance, if the nature of the issue makes it unrealistic or impossible to address within the organisation, or if you have already attempted an internal resolution without success, then it becomes necessary to consider external disclosure. In such cases, the disclosure should be made to an appropriate prescribed person or body. The disclosure must fall within the jurisdiction of the external person or body to ensure that it qualifies as a protected disclosure under whistleblowing laws.
Seek Professional Advice
Consulting with a professional who specialises in whistleblowing law is highly beneficial. An expert can provide invaluable advice on navigating the complexities of your case, ensuring that your actions are legally sound and strategically planned. They can also help you understand the potential risks and benefits of different courses of action.
Make a Disclosure
Once you are fully prepared and informed, proceed with making your disclosure. It is important to communicate your concerns clearly, factually and without personal bias. How you present your disclosure can greatly influence how it is received and acted upon. It is not uncommon for employers to attempt to quash an Employment Tribunal claim by stating the case was not made in “good faith” and is formed due to a grudge against the employer. So you must ensure the protected disclosure is completely unbiased from the outset.
What Happens After Blowing the Whistle at Work?
After blowing the whistle, the immediate response typically involves your employer initiating an investigation into the reported misconduct. This process should be conducted impartially and thoroughly, aimed at uncovering the truth about your allegations. During this phase, you can expect to receive updates about the investigation and its progress. It is crucial for employers to handle the situation sensitively, protecting your rights as a whistleblower.
Simultaneously, you might experience changes in workplace dynamics. Whistleblowing can unfortunately impact your working relationships, potentially leading to a feeling of isolation. Under UK whistleblowing law, you are protected from retaliation such as dismissal, detriment or any other mistreatment due to your disclosure. However, suppose you do face adverse treatment or feel that your concerns are not being adequately addressed. In that case, it is important to seek legal advice to understand your rights and the steps you can take, including the possibility of a whistleblowing claim at an Employment Tribunal.
Making a Whistleblowing Claim
Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing at work requires courage, preparation and an understanding of your legal rights. By following these steps, you can ensure that your actions are protected under whistleblowing law in the UK and that you have a strong whistleblowing case should you experience any unfavourable treatment. Remember, whistleblowing not only protects public interest but also reinforces a culture of transparency and accountability in the workplace. If you are considering this path, professional whistleblowing advice and support are invaluable to navigating this complex yet vital process.
Should you have any questions about whistleblowing in the workplace, contact Damian McCarthy. Over the years, Damian has represented clients at the highest levels and he has acted in high-profile whistleblowing cases. With extensive experience in employment law, Damian can support you through the process of making a whistleblowing claim. For a free, confidential and no-obligation discussion, complete Damian’s contact form today.