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Whistle-blowing - Public Interest Disclosure

Key points

  • Disclosures should be made in the public interest.
  • If workers can not go to their employer with the disclosure first they should contact a prescribed person or body (guidance is available from GOV.UK - Blowing the whistle: list of prescribed people and bodies).
  • If workers are dismissed because of whistleblowing they may claim unfair dismissal.
  • A tribunal will have the power to reduce any compensation by up to 25% if they think the disclosure was made in "bad faith".

If workers bring information about a wrongdoing to the attention of their employers or a relevant organisation, they are protected in certain circumstances under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. This is commonly referred to as 'blowing the whistle'. The law that protects whistle-blowers is for the public interest - so people can speak out if they find malpractice in an organisation. Blowing the whistle is more formally known as 'making a disclosure in the public interest'.

Qualifying disclosures are disclosures of information where the worker reasonably believes (and it is in the public interest) that one or more of the following matters is either happening, has taken place, or is likely to happen in the future.

  • A criminal offence
  • The breach of a legal obligation
  • A miscarriage of justice
  • A danger to the health and safety of any individual
  • Damage to the environment
  • Deliberate attempt to conceal any of the above.

If a worker is going to make a disclosure it should be made to the employer first, or if they feel unable to use the organisations procedure the disclosure should be made to a prescribed person, so that employment rights are protected.

Workers who 'blow the whistle' on wrongdoing in the workplace can claim unfair dismissal if they are dismissed or victimised for doing so. An employee's dismissal (or selection for redundancy) is automatically considered 'unfair' if it is wholly or mainly for making a protected disclosure. From 25th June 2013 if a case goes to a tribunal and the tribunal thinks the disclosure was made in bad faith, it will have the power to reduce compensation by up to 25%.

A worker will have to show three things to claim PIDA protection:

  1. that he or she made a disclosure
  2. that they followed the correct disclosure procedure
  3. that they were dismissed or suffered a detriment as a result of making the disclosure.

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