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Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing in the workplace

Published 15 February 2016

For an employer facing up to wrongdoing in its own organisation is a difficult task – and getting it wrong can prove costly.

There is a mixed view of whistle-blowers. For some they are heroes working in the public interest, and for others they are seen as traitors.

Regardless of your view, it remains the case that if an employee highlights wrongdoing to an employer, or a relevant organisation, they are protected in certain circumstances under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) 1988.

In a recent case a NHS whistle-blower who was unfairly sacked after exposing concerns about patient safety was reportedly awarded £1.22m in damages by a hospital trust in Coventry.

Cardiologist Raj Mattu claimed he had been vilified and bullied after publicly exposing overcrowding and fears for patient safety. An employment tribunal ruled that he had been unfairly dismissed.

The law that protects a whistle-blower is for the public interest and intended to defend those who highlight misconduct in an organisation, and as a result make a disclosure ‘in the public interest’.

Any worker is protected by the law, and this includes those who work in the public sector, office and factory workers, trainees and agency staff.

The protection applies if a worker reports any of the following:

  • A criminal offence
  • Health and safety dangers
  • Risk or actual damage to the environment.
  • A miscarriage of justice
  • The employer is breaking the law.
  • To expose wrongdoing being covered up.

Employers should create an environment where employees feel confident and comfortable to raise concerns.

Disclosures should be investigated promptly, with full records kept of the investigation.

A whistle-blower who has made a disclosure in good faith should not be victimised. If workers are dismissed because of whistle-blowing they may claim unfair dismissal.

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

  • That they made a disclosure
  • That they followed the right disclosure procedure
  • That they were dismissed or suffered a detriment as a result of making the disclosure.

There are no limits on the compensatory award that may be awarded for dismissals for making a protected disclosure (whistle-blowing).

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