Image: Richard Wheeler/Wikimedia Image: Richard Wheeler/Wikimedia

Whistleblowing legislation was introduced in the UK under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 and whilst it’s a term many of us have seen discussed in various newspaper headlines – most recently with an increase in the number of disclosures to the UK’s Pension Regulator – are we really aware of how the whistleblowing legislation is there to protect us?

With 82% of those working in small businesses reporting they would report illegal or unethical workplace practices, it’s important that we know just what a whistleblowing disclosure entails, and when we could potentially break that protection.

What is a whistleblower?

Introduced to protect employees who were previously singled out or treated unfairly for reporting wrongdoing, whistleblowing prevents detrimental treatment of those employees giving them greater protection when they decided to blow the whistle and report misconduct.

Information in a whistleblowing case is when a disclosure is made in the public interest by an employee to either an employer or relevant organization. For example a governing body such as HMRC or an MP are both listed on the UK government’s relevant organisations list which details all ‘prescribed persons’.

A whistleblowing doesn’t always apply

If a disclosure is made to the media, then it’s likely that the whistleblowing law rights will not apply. Reporting misconduct should be done so to the right person to avoid a difficult situation arising.

Information disclosed is only a whistleblowing when something has either happened, is currently happening or is likely to happen in the future. Anything reported should be an information disclosure rather than an allegation which cannot be backed up by evidence.

Evidence in a whistleblowing case should be clearly documented and add merit to any claims made. Information obtained should be evidence which couldn’t otherwise be obtained via public sources or government resources. In other words, anything you disclose should be new information to all who are receiving the news.

All whistleblowing claims should be taken seriously, but it’s worth remembering that enough information needs to be given initially to ensure the claim is a valid one.

Dealing with claimants

Once a claim has been reported and depending on whether you wish to remain anonymous or not will determine how the whistleblowing is dealt with. If you wish to remain protected then you will have no say in how your disclosure moves forwards. If others are involved then their comments will remain protected.

If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly then you can take your employer to an employment tribunal, if successful damages can often be unlimited. It’s worth noting here that employment tribunals are harder to succeed at when a whistleblowing was completed anonymously, as it may be harder to prove that unfair treatment was a result of the whistleblowing.

Whistleblowers should be credited for being brave enough to stand up against their employers and knowing your disclosure rights should be a priority, especially if you feel the workplace is suffering as a result of wrongdoing.

By Luke Hutchings, head of employment, Taylor Rose