WHISTLEBLOWING: In fact, blowing the whistle for malpractice at work has a legal definition.
The formal title is ‘making a disclosure in the public interest‘.
There are several important reasons for understanding the procedures for whistleblowing.
- You will have legal protection from losing your job.
- The law protects you against victimisation as a result of what you uncover or make public.
A worker who reports certain types of wrongdoing is a whistleblower. As a rule, it is something you uncover at work. But, it can also be outside of the workplace.
If you disclose a wrongdoing it must be in the public interest and affect other people. But, there is no time limit to ‘blowing the whistle‘.
That means employees can raise their concern about an incident at any time. It can be something that happened in the past, is happening right now, or one you believe will happen in the future.
Who the Law Protects
- An employee (e.g. a factory worker, office worker, NHS employee, a police officer)
- A trainee (e.g. a student nurse)
- An agency worker
- A member of a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)
Note: Any confidentiality clause in a settlement agreement is invalid if you are a whistleblower. It is also called a ‘gagging clause’.
Whistleblowers Complaints Protected by Law
Protection applies to all ‘qualifying disclosures’. That means the law protects if you report:
- A criminal offence (e.g. fraud).
- A danger to someone’s health and safety.
- Any risk or actual damage to the environment.
- A miscarriage of justice.
- An organisation for breaking the law (e.g. failing to comply with a legal obligation).
- Someone for covering up wrongdoing.
Note: Whistleblowers may lose protection if they break a different law by blowing the whistle.
Complaints Not Protected by Whistleblowing Law
As a rule, whistleblowing laws do not cover personal grievances. Examples include bullying and harassment at work, as well as discrimination. Exceptions may occur if your particular case is very much in the public interest.
Note: You should report a personal grievance using your employer grievance policy. You can also contact Acas for help resolving a workplace dispute.
Who to Inform with Your Claim
Employers often have a whistleblowing policy. It will inform you of the procedures and what to expect after reporting a concern to them. But, you can still report a concern to your employer even if they do not have a policy in place.
Other options exist if you prefer not to report your unease to your employer. You can seek legal advice from a lawyer or you can tell a prescribed person (or body).
A prescribed person or body must be one that deals with the particular issue that you raise. For example, make a disclosure to the Care Quality Commission about a wrongdoing in a care home.
Anonymous or Confidential Claims
You can choose to inform your employer (or a prescribed person) anonymously. But, as a rule they need extensive information to take the claim further.
If you give your name you can still request confidentiality. In this case, whoever you tell should make every effort to keep your identity private.
Reporting your concern to the media means you lose your whistleblowing law rights in most cases.
What Happens Next
The person you tell will listen to your concern and decide what, if any, action to take. They may ask you for further detailed information.
Make it clear from the beginning if you do not want anyone else to know that it was you who ‘blew the whistle‘. But, you rarely have a say in how your concern gets dealt with.
What can you do if you are not satisfied with the way your employer dealt with your concern?
In this case you should tell someone else instead. You could try telling a more senior member of staff. A prescribed person or body will often take you more seriously. This is especially true if the wrongdoing continues to exist.
Related News Story: Whistleblowing at Work Made Easier by New FCA Rulings.
Unfair Treatment after Whistleblowing
There are steps you can take if you have get treated unfairly after you ‘blow the whistle at work‘. You can take your case to an employment tribunal.
You can also get further information from:
- The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
- Citizens’ Advice
- The whistleblowing charity ‘Public Concern at Work‘
- Your trade union
You may find it difficult to show your unfair treatment was as a result of your whistleblowing if you made the report anonymously.
If you raise a claim of unfair dismissal it must occur within 3 months of your employment ending. Contact Acas if you plan to take your case to an employment tribunal.