Whistleblowing is the act of reporting workplace wrongdoing. It is protected by law so that worker employment rights are maintained in the face of unjust retaliation from employers and co-workers.
This legislation allows for a worker to make a ‘protected disclosure’ that prevents dismissal or detriment towards them. This right is granted from the moment employment begins.
The Employment Rights Act 1996 and Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 grant whistleblower protection for all UK workers across all sectors, except those who are self-employed.
As long as there is good reason to do so, anyone in the workplace can make a disclosure, from employers to employees.
All potential whistleblowers should ensure they have justified legal grounds for speaking out. This can include the following:
a) Failure to comply with legal obligation(s)
b) Endangering worker(s) health or safety
c) Miscarriage of justice
d) Criminal offences
e) Environmental damage
f) Deliberate hiding of wrongdoing
Before legal help is requested there are certain actions that should be followed:
- The disclosure must be made to a 'prescribed person', an authoritative individual within an organisation, usually an employer or co-worker representing the specific area of concern, such as a Health & Safety Executive. The right person should always be addressed before whistleblowing.
The claim should be made in good faith. Employers facing accusations may counter by claiming an employee is behaving with malice due to an unrelated issue, such as reacting to workplace discipline. Potential whistleblowers should be aware of this.
The claim should be brought to an Employment Tribunal within three months less one day of the detriment suffered. Where the conduct that caused the detriment was ongoing, the time limit runs from the last day of the conduct. If the worker was dismissed, it runs from the last day of employment. It is possible for a Tribunal to extend these limits but usually this only occurs due if time constraints affect the claim.
Before the claim is made the ACAS Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance Procedures (www.acas.org.uk) should be followed. A successful claim can be reduced by 25% if it is later found to have been ignored when required.
Understanding the level of compensation available is important as the figure differs according to the detriment suffered. Although the amount can be potentially unlimited.