If employees raise information in relation to specific types of wrongdoing by defined means they can be protected in certain circumstances under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.
This seeks to afford employees reassurance that if they speak out about malpractice in an organisation they should not be punished or dismissed, as to do so could give rise to a claim for damages or automatic unfair dismissal.
Usually employees are required to have served over two years with an organisation before they have rights to bring actions such as unfair dismissal before a tribunal. In cases where the principle reason for termination of employment is because the employee made a protected disclosure then that 2 year rule does not apply. Even if the employee had only been in employment one day, if their employment is terminated in these protected circumstances, for this unlawful reason, they would be able to bring a claim.
For a disclosure to be a qualifying disclosure and for the protection to apply the disclosure must be made by the worker in the public interest and in circumstances where the worker reasonably believes that one or more of the following matters is either happening, had happened 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
Normally the worker should make the disclosure to the employer first and some organisations have specific policies dealing with the way in which such information should be disclosed. If the worker feels they are unable to use such a procedure the disclosure should normally be made to a prescribed person or body as per the approved list.
Workers who 'blow the whistle' on wrongdoing in the workplace who suffer detriment, victimisation or dismissal can bring various claims at Tribunal including unfair dismissal if they are dismissed. An employee's dismissal (or selection for redundancy) is automatically considered 'unfair' if it is wholly or mainly for making a protected disclosure.
A disclosure should be made in good faith and not for the personal profit or benefit of the individual. If a Tribunal finds that notwithstanding a qualifying disclosure being made, if it was made in bad faith, the Tribunal has the power to reduce compensation by up to 25%.