Whistleblowing Court Decision, What You Need to Know

25 August 2017

Uncovering some kind of wrongdoing or malpractice in the workplace is known as Whistleblowing. If you are thinking about blowing the whistle at work, there are certain considerations that you need to be aware of, one of which is that your actions must be in the public interest.

Public Interest Disclosure Act

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1988 introduced specific rights for employees who disclose information about alleged wrongdoings. The Act means an employee cannot be subjected to detrimental treatment or dismissed due to making a disclosure.

For more information on when it may be appropriate to ‘blow the whistle’ please see Health and Safety Whistleblowing.

One of the requirements of the law is that any person making the disclosure must reasonably believe that it is in the public interest. It is not always easy to determine if a disclosure is in the public interest rather than just the private interest of the employee. There has been a recent Court of Appeal decision on this point that provides useful guidance.

The case of Chesterton Global Ltd v Nurmohamed heard in the Court of Appeal confirmed whether a disclosure of information is in the public interest will be heavily fact dependant.

In this case Mr Nurmoahmed, along with approximately 100 colleagues, was being paid commission at work. He believed his employer was exaggerating expenses to reduce profits and therefore reduce commission payments, the total was around £2million to £3million. In order to evidence the allegation as a protected disclosure Mr Nurmoahmed needed to show he reasonably believed the matter was in the public interest.

The main questions for the Court of Appeal were:

  • Was a disclosure about a commission structure affecting only a relatively small group of sales people something which could reasonably be believed to be in the public interest?
  • Can a disclosure which is in the private interest of the individual making it become in the public interest because it also serves the private interests of other workers as well?

The Court of Appeal decided that the fact something is in the individual's private interests does not prevent it also being in the public interest. Again it is important to note the decision will be very fact dependant and will take into account points such as the size of the workforce affected.

The Court of Appeal also confirmed that it is acceptable for an employee to rationalise the grounds for his belief after having made the disclosure as long as his belief is reasonable.

If you are dismissed or experience detrimental treatment at work because of whistleblowing, you may have grounds for a claim. In terms of time limits, a claim for either a dismissal or a detriment must have been presented to ACAS for Early Conciliation within 3 months of the date of the act complained of.

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