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A guide to whistle blowing

Whistle-blowing, or ‘making a disclosure in the public interest’ as it is formally know, is when an employee reports suspected wrongdoing in the workplace. Such reports could cover one or more of the following ‘qualifying disclosures’:

  • Illegal activities and practices
  • A breach of legal obligation
  • Endangering the health and safety of an individual
  • Damage to the environment
  • Deliberately concealing any of the above

How would an employee ‘blow the whistle’?

An employee wanting to ‘blow the whistle’ on activities taking place within an organisation can do so in a number of ways.

Report to the employer: If an employee feels able to approach their employer they should do so, following the company’s whistle-blowing procedure (if they have one).

Report to a prescribed person/body: If an employee feels they can’t speak to their employer about the issue, they can tell a ‘prescribed person or body’. An employee can only approach the prescribed person/body if they believe either that their employer would cover up their complaint, that they would be treated unfairly if they were to complain, or if they have already raised it with the employer and they have done nothing to address the complaint. Examples of such prescribed bodies are the FSA and HMRC, with the full list being available on the gov.uk website.

Protection for whistle-blowers

Employees are encouraged to speak out about suspected wrongdoing within an organisation, and as such are protected under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. This means that they should not be dismissed by their employer or harassed by their colleagues following a complaint of wrongdoing. According to the gov.uk website ‘A worker will be eligible for protection if they honestly think what they’re reporting is true and they think they’re telling the right person’.

However, protection is not offered if a whistle-blower broke the law in reporting the alleged wrong-doing, like in the case of Mr Snowden, who broke the Official Secrets Act when he reported the activities at the CIA.

Change to the law on whistle-blowing

A new law coming into effect on 25th June 2013 states that going forward whistle-blowers must also believe that the disclosure is in the public interest.

Employment Tribunals

If a whistle-blower was to be dismissed following a complaint, they would likely be entitled to bring a case for unfair dismissal, where an Employment Tribunal would decide if they had been unfairly dismissed.

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