Whistleblowing: Speaking Out in the Workplace

Whistleblowing is a subject that regularly hits the headlines, particularly recently with the Health Secretary vowing to outlaw non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) for NHS staff and whistleblowing charity Protect calling for the government to adopt new EU legislation.

Despite a wish to ‘do the right thing’ many people are still reluctant to speak out about unlawful acts or wrongdoing in the workplace for fear of victimisation or losing their job. However, understanding whistleblowing legislation and processes, as well as getting the right legal support, could make all the difference when it comes to having the maximum protection under the law.

Protection for whistleblowers

For their disclosure to be protected under the law, the whistleblower must be:

  • a worker
  • reporting concerns that they believe to be true
  • disclosing something that is in the public interest

For disclosures to qualify for protection they must satisfy the criteria set out in the Public Interest Disclosure Act (1998), that any of the following have occurred, are currently ongoing or might happen in the future, namely:

  • a criminal offence
  • a failure to fulfil a legal obligation
  • a miscarriage of justice
  • the endangerment of the health or safety of any individual
  • damage to the environment
  • the concealment of wrongdoing

Making a protected disclosure

Another element of ensuring any disclosure is afforded protection is adhering to the correct reporting processes. Despite the possible temptations, running down to the local newspaper to do a tell-all interview is ill-advised. If possible, the first port of call is to tell the employer, in accordance with any internal whistleblowing policy, if they have one.

However, the nature of whistleblowing means that divulging workplace concerns to an employer might not always be a feasible option. In that case, the disclosure must be made to a ‘prescribed’ person or organisation, like a regulatory body, that have the authority to take the appropriate action.

The person can also take their case to a lawyer if they think that would be the best option under their particular circumstances. Seeking prompt legal advice from a reputable law firm is often a sensible move for whistleblowers. The nature of the client/attorney relationship means the disclosure will be protected and good legal advice could make a big difference in how a complaint is taken forward.

What happens after the disclosure?

Every situation is unique, so what happens after a disclosure has been made depends on the actions of the individual employers or any prescribed persons or bodies. In ideal situations, the complaint is dealt with professionally and effectively, with no adverse effects on the whistleblower’s employment or experiences in the workplace.

Unfortunately, it can be the case that the matter is not handled appropriately or sometimes not addressed at all. If this happens, the person has the option of reporting their concerns again to other appropriate people within their organisation or relevant bodies in the hope that they will take things further. Consulting with a trade union representative (where applicable), ACAS or a specialist solicitor is also a sensible option at this stage.

It’s a sad fact that some whistleblowers can find themselves subjected to victimisation or harassment at work as a result of their disclosures. They may also find their career prospects reduced or even face dismissal from their job. It’s important to note that anyone experiencing such issues as a result of them speaking out has the option of seeking justice through an Employment Tribunal.

Helping whistleblowers through the legal process

We understand that making a disclosure is a huge decision with potentially far-reaching consequences. At Rowberry Morris our experienced employment law solicitors are here to support whistleblowers who feel they need to speak up. Our expertise allows us to guide you through the process with the right legal advice and support. If you’re thinking of making a disclosure or you’re facing discrimination after whistleblowing, we’re here to be on your side.

For more help and advice, contact our employment law specialists today.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.