What is whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing - or the more official name of ‘making a disclosure in the public interest’ - occurs when a person exposes something which is in the public interest. People can blow the whistle on public figures (such as politicians) but the term is usually used in the context of an employee blowing the whistle on their employer or company.

A person might ‘blow the whistle’ on a criminal offence, a breach of the law, a health and safety risk, environmental harm, or any other type of deliberate cover up of undesirable actions that the public has a right to know about.

What laws apply to whistleblowing?

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 protects workers who 'blow the whistle' about wrongdoing in their workplace. The law prevents employees and workers who make a ‘protected disclosure’ from being treated badly or being dismissed.

Employees who are dismissed for blowing the whistle on their employer can make a claim for unfair dismissal.

Non-employees (i.e. workers who are not under an employment contract) can make a claim to an Employment Tribunal claiming that they have suffered 'detrimental treatment'. Both types of legal claims may result in the employer being ordered to pay compensation to the employee.

Are there any exceptions to the protections for whistleblowing?

There are some types of disclosures that will not be covered under the Act. There will be no protection from whistleblowing if:

  • The person breaks the law when making a disclosure
  • If the information is protected under legal professional privilege

Should you get legal advice before blowing the whistle?

Whistleblowing will only be protected if it falls under the legal protections under the Act. For disclosures to be protected by the law they must be made to the right person (the ‘prescribed person’) and in the right way.

The employee must make the disclosure in good faith (with honest intent and without malice) and must reasonably believe that the information is substantially true.

For these reasons, it is advisable to seek legal advice from an employment law solicitor prior to making any disclosures, to ensure you will be protected under the law.

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