A recent landmark case awarded £2m to an employee who had blown the whistle on his employer. This reward was one of the largest ever given by an employment tribunal, and now it has other businesses worried about the implications.
Why? The ruling implies that individual directors can be held personally liable for detrimental treatment caused by them choosing to dismiss someone for whistleblowing.
Is the ruling that serious?
Only time will tell how profound of an impact this ruling will have, but it sets a precedent.
Other employees may now feel encouraged to pursue claims against co-workers.
The amount of claims relating to whistleblowing were already steadily increasing; in April-June 2018 there was a 56% increase from the same period in 2017, just after tribunal fees had been removed.
Croner will monitor whether the amount of claims increase in the future as a result of this ruling and provide updates where necessary.
For now, you can never be too safe, it’s worth reviewing your whistleblowing policy and paying close attention to any employee feedback that might lead you to believe there are issues within your organisation.
What should I do if my employee blows the whistle?
First determine whether the employee is technically ‘whistleblowing’ or just raising a personal grievance.
If they're disclosing information they believe is in the public interest, is a criminal offence, failure to comply with a legal obligation, damaging the environment, covering up wrongdoing, or endangering employees (or others) lives, then that is whistleblowing.
If the employee is disclosing information related to their own personal interests, this is not whistleblowing, although it can still be damaging and result in a tribunal.
Next, make sure you investigate the situation raised by the whistleblowing employee. If an employee felt strongly enough about an issue to blow the whistle, there’s a good chance the problem is serious.
Investigating and making changes shows you are committed to addressing the issue, and may prevent any further incidents.
The employee is protected under the Public Interest Disclosure Act and therefore cannot be subject to detrimental treatment or dismissed because they have blown the whistle.
This can be a tricky situation, and tensions can run high, so it’s worth having an HR representative present in all meetings with the employee, keeping all communication professional and related to the day-to-day operation of the business.
If you don’t believe the whistle-blower’s allegations to be true, disputing the claim can be incredibly difficult. Particularly when a claim is false, but the accuser believes the claim to be true.
Distinguishing whether the employee had malicious intent or mistaken belief is tricky, and it is worth seeking the advice of an expert when attempting to do so.
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