Most people have heard of whistleblowing and associate it with sectors such as the NHS or care industry. However, the legislation applies to all businesses and instances of claims are increasingly common.
Is this because arguing your dismissal was down to whistleblowing gets the employee around the requirement to have two years’ service? Perhaps. It could also be because employers don’t understand what whistleblowing is and that they have obligations. All employers should be aware of the potential risks, and the benefits of taking concerns seriously.
What is whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing is the reporting of certain types of wrongful behaviour. The wrongful behaviour must relate to business (or one of its representatives) doing one or more of the following:
committing a criminal offence;
risking health and safety;
risking or actually damaging the environment;
a miscarriage of justice;
breaching its legal obligations; and
covering up wrongdoing.
If the person has a genuine belief in the clear information they are conveying and it is in the public interest (i.e. it affects others too), they will be protected under the whistleblowing legislation. They have the right not to be treated detrimentally or to be dismissed because they spoke up.
Who is protected?
It’s not just employees but also many workers. The Tribunals have a fairly broad jurisdiction so the safest course is to assume that everyone is protected and take allegations seriously.
How much compensation can an employee be awarded for whistleblowing?
There is no cap on compensation when it comes to whistleblowing. In addition to claiming any financial losses, workers will also be able to claim an award for the way in which they have been made to feel as a result of the business’ actions.
How do I handle whistleblowing in the workplace?
Carefully! Businesses should have a policy which sets out how whistleblowing allegations will be handled. You should not treat the person detrimentally as a result of raising a concern.
The important thing is to be able to spot when a conversation, email or letter might amount to whistleblowing. In our experience, many employers fall at this first hurdle and do not recognise the issue. There is no need for a disclosure to be marked as whistleblowing and often they are cloaked within grievances or general conversations, only to be labelled after the event when litigation ensues.
Before taking any action, step back; consider whether the information being passed to you fits into one of the categories above. The particular danger categories are health and safety and breach of legal obligations.
What should be included in a whistleblowing policy?
The following should be included in a whistleblowing policy:
an explanation of what whistleblowing is
who to talk to if you have concerns / how to report issues correctly
confirmation that genuine concerns will be taken seriously and the whistleblower won’t be looked upon unfavourably
We're here to help
If you would like any advice on whistleblowing or any other employment issue, please contact a member of the Employment Law Team.