Whistle blowing in the workplace: Impact of the new rules

Whistle blowing occurs when a worker reports what he feels is suspected wrongdoing at work. The things which workers can report include anything that is illegal or if work are neglecting various duties such as health and safety, environmental issues, covering up wrongdoing etc.

An employee should not be dismissed because of the whistle blowing they have done and as long as they have made a qualifying disclosure then if they are dismissed it will be viewed as an automatically unfair dismissal. The criteria for a qualifying disclosure is that they report:

• Someone’s health and safety is in danger
• Damage to the environment
• A criminal offence
• Their company isn’t obeying the law
• Covering up wrongdoing

However as of June 2013 there has been change in some of the rules regarding the protected nature of whistle blowers. The most important one that could potentially impact significantly on any future case is that the whistle blower has to reasonably believe that their disclosure is in the public interest. The aim of this is to weed out any claims from employees in which they aren’t of the public concern and potentially only relate to the individual.

The interesting thing to note here is that the Government have not defined what public interest means. So until the cases start to be heard in the courts and tribunals it is still a grey area as to the limits of this law and whether it will actually reduce the number of whistle blowing claims that can be made. What is likely to happen for the moment is that any employer will challenge the whistle-blowing claim on the grounds it is not in the public interest.

Another alteration to the law is that the employee making the claim no longer has to be making a disclosure in good faith. Previously disgruntled employees wanting to make trouble for their previous employers would not be able to make a whistle blowing claim for that reason, that danger has now reared it’s ugly head. Although if a claim isn’t made in good faith but they do go on to win the employee could see their compensation reduced by up to 25%.

The final thing to be aware of with regard to the changes to whistle blowing legislation is to do with the issue of more wide reaching disclosures in which an employee blows the whistle to a larger audience, the most relevant example when an employee informs the media. If an employee does inform the media they will only be protected with regard to automatically unfair dismissals if the matter is very serious or the whistleblower has already disclosed to their employer or prescribed body.

With these rules only just coming into effect now it will take some time before the impacts of the alterations will be felt throughout the tribunals across Britain.