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Change in whistleblowing protection coincides with Jimmy Savile and BBC allegations



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Change in whistleblowing protection coincides with Jimmy Savile and BBC allegations

In light of the Jimmy Savile scandal, and whether employees and directors of the BBC were aware of his alleged paedophilic activities, the issue of whistleblowing in a corporate environment has come to the fore.

The biggest scandal to hit the BBC in 50 years has led to Jimmy Savile falling from one of the most revered radio and TV personalities to one of the most reviled. Yet how many former BBC employees knew the truth about Jimmy Savile and failed to act? Or worse, tried to act and blow the whistle on Savile’s predatory activities but were ignored by their employers?

It is ironic and not a little unfortunate therefore that in the light of this high-profile case, where it appears that many victims attempted to report Jimmy Savile, that the UK government plans to weaken employment protection for so-called “whistleblowers”.

A clause in the new Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will amend the current requirements so that any disclosures made by whistleblowers will have to satisfy the public interest to be a “qualifying disclosure”. This “qualifying disclosure” must then be relayed to a relevant person in good faith for the disclosure to become “protected”, i.e. the employee will be protected from detriment or dismissal.

This change is an attempt to reverse the decision in Parkins v Sodexho, which had the effect of diluting the strength of the Public Interest Disclosure Act. Commentators argue that if a whistleblower within a company has to weigh up whether what they have seen is truly in the public interest in order to be protected, they may err on the side of caution and say nothing.

The UK model for whistleblowing is quite different to that in the USA, where whistleblowing protection dates back as far as the American Civil War. American legislation actually rewards the person or persons who disclosed the breach, and this encouraging approach means that the US regulators are kept busy with a constant flow of information about private companies; some spurious, some not.  It is unlikely we will see this reward model coming to the UK any time soon.

Tom Street of Do I Have A Case comments: “It is true that in the UK employees are not exactly encouraged to come forward. This might in part be due to unscrupulous and aggrieved employees who have used the whistleblowing protection to bring a quasi-dismissal claim against their former employer.  This amendment in the Enterprise and Regulatory Bill is designed to remove the possibility of such vexatious claims, i.e. if the disclosure is not in the public interest than there will be no protection for the employee. However, in light of the Savile allegations, I sincerely hope that the requirement for a public interest angle will not stop employees or victims of sexual abuse coming forward to report against individuals in authority positions.”