Two former News of the World journalists have taken News International to the employment tribunal claiming unfair dismissal. Ian Edmondson, a former assistant editor filed his lawsuit in April after he was sacked in January. Neville Thurlbeck, a former chief reporter with the News of the World was sacked earlier this month. He has moved the employment tribunal claiming that he is a whistle-blower and hence should not be dismissed. Although Thurlbeck filed this case in the employment tribunal much later than Edmondson, Thurlbeck’s case is being expedited because he is claiming a whistle-blower defence.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act of 1998 which came into force in July 1998 deals with protection of whistle blowers. In the employment context, the Act protects employees who reveal otherwise sensitive information to further certain designated public ends. An employee who has made a protected disclosure under this Act has the right not to suffer a detriment or to be dismissed as a result.
The Act seeks to protect whistle-blowers whose disclosure is protected if the information shows criminality, any breach of a legal obligation, health and safety dangers, environmental danger or concealment. The employee is not protected if the act of disclosure involved committing a criminal offense. The disclosure is protected if made in good faith or with legal advice. Disclosure should be made to the employer, other responsible persons or to a third party in accordance with a procedure agreed with the employer. Employees in these circumstances are protected from dismissal or action short of dismissal, since such action by the employer would be automatically unfair with no qualifying period of employment.
The disclosure made by an employee becomes a protected disclosure only if it conforms to the strict requirements of the Act. The disclosure must be a qualified disclosure, that is within the specified categories of wrongdoing or malpractice which are made by a worker, employee or contract worker. Where these criteria apply, the employee is protected from any detrimental action or dismissal. Detrimental includes doing or not doing something to the employee that would amount to any kind of victimisation.