'Whistleblowing' is when a worker provides certain types of information which has come to their attention, usually to the employer or a regulator, to raise a concern about danger or illegality that affects others. The disclosure may be about the alleged wrongful conduct of the employer, a colleague, client, or any third party. Typically, the whistleblower is not directly, personally affected by the danger or illegality, although they may be.
In the UK, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 is a key piece of legislation protecting individuals who ‘blow the whistle’ in the public interest. Examples of the situations covered include financial malpractice, criminal offences, risks to health and safety, failure to comply with a legal obligation, a miscarriage of justice and environmental damage. Workers who make a ‘protected disclosure’ can make a claim to an employment tribunal if they’re treated badly or dismissed. For a disclosure to be protected, it must meet the test for being in the public interest and the worker must follow the procedures set out in the legislation. The disclosure must usually be made to an appropriate external body. For example, disclosing a health and safety issue to the Health and Safety Executive is likely to be protected. Disclosures to the media will be protected only in certain cases only, for example if there is no prescribed regulator or where less public disclosures didn’t get a reasonable response.
Employers should have a standalone ‘speak up’ policy that is supported at the top of the organisation and effectively promoted to the workforce. This should make clear to all staff what to do if they come across malpractice in the workplace, and encourage individuals to inform someone who is in an appropriate position in the organisation to act. Both employer and worker may have a lot at stake in a whistleblowing scenario, and developing and promoting a clear and robust policy for raising concerns can help to minimise risk.
Our Whistleblower helpline is a free confidential helpline, exclusive to CIPD members, which offers you support on whistleblowing matters.
Below you can access a factsheet on the role of employee voice, and a series of case law and legal Q&As that discuss whistleblowing scenarios.