Whistleblowing is the act of reporting wrongdoing within an organisation. To encourage transparency and accountability, in the United Kingdom, whistleblowers are protected by law. It is important for all employees to understand their rights should they find themselves in a situation where they need to raise concerns and ‘blow the whistle’.
Below we have put together some general advice for whistleblowers in the UK, providing an overview of the protection available and focusing on the rights of employees.
When can Employees Blow the Whistle?
Whistleblowing is not simply a matter of airing personal grievances or expressing dissatisfaction about a personal issue at work. It involves raising serious concerns and disclosing information about wrongdoing that you believe is in the public interest, such as;
- A criminal offence
- A breach of a legal obligation
- A miscarriage of justice
- A danger to the health and safety of any individual
- Damage to the environment
You can also blow the whistle if you know about the deliberate concealment of information about any of the above wrongdoing.
Legal Protections for Whistleblowers
In the UK, whistleblowers are protected under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996). All workers are protected by the ERA 1996, including employees, trainees, agency workers and members of LLPs. You do not need to have worked at a company for a minimum period to be protected either and the protection begins on the first day of employment.
To be protected under this piece of legislation, you must;
- Believe that the disclosed information is true
- Believe that the disclosed information falls within one of the categories above
- Disclose to an appropriate person or body
While the ERA 1996 provides essential protection, it is not without criticism. Some argue that the law does not go far enough to protect employees who blow the whistle and there is a need for a shift within organisations to better support and protect those who speak up.
The main protection available under the ERA 1996 includes;
Protection Against Dismissal
If you are an employee and you blow the whistle, you are protected against unfair dismissal under the ERA 1996. This means that your employer can not dismiss you without fair reason and if they dismiss you because you are a whistleblower then you may be able to take an unfair dismissal claim to the Employment Tribunal.
Protection Against Victimisation
Employees and workers who make a protected disclosure are safeguarded against detrimental treatment by their employer. This treatment can include bullying, harassment and victimisation, but it can also be much less obvious than this.
Detrimental treatment includes things such as your employer; paying you less, requiring you to work harder, denying you promotions or training opportunities, highlighting insignificant conduct issues and providing an unfair reference. If you are treated unfairly, you may be able to make a whistleblowing claim.
Reporting Concerns – When and How?
Many people do not realise that you can blow the whistle at any time. Commonly, employees blow the whistle about an incident that has happened in the past or is happening now. However, you can also raise concerns about an incident that is believed to happen in the near future.
There are a few different ways you can report concerns, including;
Initially, any concerns you have should be reported internally to your employer. You can typically find out who you should be reporting concerns to within your employer’s whistleblowing policy.
If you are unable to report concerns internally, for example, you have tried but they have not been addressed, you can turn to an external third party. It can be difficult to know who you should report your concerns to and it is highly recommended that you seek legal advice before telling anyone about the wrongdoing. This will help to avoid any problems relating to the protection under the ERA 1996.
Generally speaking, you should tell a prescribed person or body. For example, if you are blowing the whistle on a care home you can contact the Care Quality Commission (CQC) or if the wrongdoing relates to UK taxes you can raise concerns with the Commissioners for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). You can find a list of prescribed people and bodies that you can report malpractice to on the Government website.
In exceptional circumstances, a whistleblower may be justified in making a public disclosure, such as airing their concerns to the media. This is very unusual and should only be done after seeking advice from employment law solicitors as it may not be protected.
Practical Tips for Whistleblowers
If you are considering blowing the whistle, there are some basic things that you should do before you speak to anyone about the concerns you have;
- Read the Whistleblowing Policy – It is always beneficial to familiarise yourself with your employer’s whistleblowing policy. This will help you to understand any procedures and you can ensure that you are following these when taking action.
- Document Everything – It can be beneficial to keep a record of all communications, evidence and actions related to your concern. Providing your legal representative with this information will be useful should you make a claim in the future.
- Seek Legal Advice – If you are ever unsure about your rights or the best course of action, do not hesitate to seek professional legal advice. You can obtain legal advice without concerns relating to your legal protection.
Speak to an Employment Law Whistleblowing Solicitor in London
Hopefully, this whistleblowing advice has been beneficial if you have concerns about wrongdoing in your organisation. Knowing your rights and following the appropriate process can help to ensure you are protected by whistleblowing law in the UK.
Remember, if you ever find yourself in a position where you need to blow the whistle, legal and professional support is available. At Nationwide Employment Lawyers we have a specialist employment team who have an in-depth understanding of whistleblowing rights for employees. We can provide you with the legal advice you need and help you to ensure that you are handling the situation correctly. We can also assist you with any employment law claims you decide to make following the unfair treatment you experience after you have blown the whistle.
Our whistleblower lawyers in London can answer any questions you may have about whistleblowing protection in the UK. Contact us today for some initial support.