What is whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing is when somebody reports alleged wrongdoing within an organisation. The law protects whistleblowers from detrimental treatment, eg dismissal, for raising concerns about matters they reasonably believe to be in the public interest.
Am I protected?
Most protections from whistleblowing exist in the Employment Rights Act 1996 and Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Under these provisions, you are protected from victimisation if you are:
making a 'qualifying disclosure' - ie you reveal information of the right type
making a 'protected disclosure' - ie you disclose the alleged wrongdoing to a prescribed person and in the right way
To qualify for protection, you must be a 'worker'. This includes employees, agency workers, and people not employed by but undergoing training with an organisation (eg student nurses and midwives doing work experience as part of their training).
A qualifying disclosure is a disclosure that you reasonably believe is in the public interest, and which communicates that the alleged wrongdoing is happening, has happened, or will happen. The types of wrongdoing covered include:
failure to comply with a legal obligation
miscarriages of justice
threats to people's health and safety
damage to the environment
attempts to cover up any of the above
You may not be protected if you break another law in blowing the whistle, for example, when you've signed the Official Secrets Act 1989 as part of your Employment contract.
You must make a disclosure to a prescribed person and in the right way in order to be protected. You must also reasonably believe that the information you wish to reveal is substantially true.
You can make the disclosure:
to your employer
through procedures authorised by your employer, which are usually found in your employer's Grievance procedure. It is also worth checking your Employment contract, which may set out a process to help you make a disclosure. Alternatively, your employer may have a Whistleblowing policy in place outlining to whom you should make any disclosures and how
to the person responsible for the area of concern (eg a health and safety officer for concerns about health and safety)
Under certain circumstances, you can also make disclosures:
to your legal adviser
to a Government minister
to others (eg a professional standards body), although there are different rules as to when disclosures will be protected here (eg you must not be acting for personal gain). For more information on this complicated area, Ask a lawyer
If you believe that you are blowing the whistle on an exceptionally serious failure in your workplace, you can publicly blow the whistle straight away. It must be a matter of fact that something is an exceptionally serious failure; your opinion alone is not enough (eg there could be an exceptionally serious health and safety failure that is putting people's lives at risk).
What happens if I lose my job for whistleblowing?
If you are an employee and covered by the whistleblowing protections, you can make a claim for unfair dismissal. You don't need one year's service in order to do this, as whistleblowing dismissal claims are automatically unfair.
If you are not an employee but covered by the whistleblowing protections, you can take your case to an Employment Tribunal and claim that you have suffered 'detrimental treatment' (eg you were subjected to unfair treatment, harassment or victimisation) as a result of blowing the whistle.