What is the Whistleblowing Act?
The act is known formally as the Public Disclosure Act 1998. It means a worker is protected from dismissal if he or she blows the whistle on certain activities taking place within a firm.
Who can disclose information?
The protection provided by the act extends to virtually all workers. This includes employees, agency staff and those providing contracted services, but not the self-employed. Protection is only available by following set procedures.
What sort of activities can be revealed?
A disclosure is the revelation of any information that shows that any of the following has happened, could happen or is happening:
- A criminal offence
- A miscarriage of justice
- Failure to comply with any legal obligation
- The endangerment of health and/or safety
- Damage to the environment
- Concealment of information relating to any
It is getting easier for employees who feel they have been treated unfairly to find redress
of the above
How is the information disclosed?
Disclosures should be made in good faith and not for personal gain or out of malice. A disclosure made in bad faith could lead to dismissal.
It is advisable that companies develop a policy or set of guidance notes for its workers. Policies like these are available from several sources, including my web site, v-hr.co.uk. For example, workers should be told that they can disclose information to their line manager, their line manager’s immediate manager or a third, more detached, person.
What should a company do?
If a disclosure is made in good faith, the company should undertake to carry out a thorough investigation. The reporting worker should be protected from dismissal or any detrimental action.
Has the act been used yet?
The first case, Fernandes vs Netcom Consultancy, has gone to tribunal and found in the claimant’s favour. Fernandes was responsible for the reconciliation of business expenses and receipts. The managing director of the company was making expenses claims without submitting the receipts. After six months of this, Fernandes faxed his concerns to a contact at the parent company in the USA. This contact told Fernandes he should destroy the original fax and show it to no one else. The situation continued and by 1999, £370 000 was unaccounted for. At this stage, Fernandes sent a letter to the board in the USA. He was promptly suspended from work and encouraged to resign. However, no action was taken against the managing director. Fernandes was then summoned to a disciplinary hearing where he was dismissed as a result of alleged financial irregularities.
What was the outcome?
The tribunal agreed that the original letter sent by Fernandes to the parent company was protected under the act and therefore had to decide if there was a plausible explanation for dismissal, other than as a result of whistleblowing. The tribunal found that the reason for dismissing Fernandes lacked credibility and that the company’s investigation into Fernandes’ claims had been inadequate.
The award Fernandes will receive as compensation is £293 000. This amount takes into account the fact that he may never work in the financial field again.
What are the lessons to be learned?
Angela Johnston is a director of www.v-hr.co.uk, a human resources and employment law web site.