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Whistleblowers Briefing


The Public Interest Disclosure act 1998

The Public Interest Disclosure act 1998 came into force in July 1999, and its aim is to give statutory protection against victimisation and dismissal, to workers who speak out against corruption and malpractice at work. Workers are often in the best position to know when the public's interest is being put at risk and the legal protection of the Act should allow workers to raise these concerns without fear of reprisal.

In order to get the protection of the Act a worker must make a "protected disclosure" to a "stipulated body".

Key provisions of the Act:
The Act applies to people at work who raise genuine concerns (ie. act in good faith) about the following

  • a criminal act
  • a failure to comply with a legal obligation (eg. negligence; breach of contract)
  • miscarriage of justice
  • danger to health and safety
  • damage to the environment
  • any attempt to cover up any of the above.

Who is covered?
The Act applies to employees, agency staff, contractors, homeworkers, trainees and every professional in the NHS. It does not apply to those who are genuinely self-employed, volunteers, Police, Army or Intelligence Services.

To whom may the disclosure be made?
Whistleblowers will be protected if they make a disclosure in good faith by:

  • raising the matter internally with the employer;
  • raising the matter with the relevant Government Minister or sponsoring department if they work in a quango or in the NHS;
  • raising the matter with the appropriate regulator eg. Health & Safety Executive; Inland Revenue;

Audit Commission; Utilities Regulators.

A wider disclosure, for example to the Police, the media, MPs or the non prescribed regulator, will only be protected if it was reasonable in all the circumstances and was not done for personal gain.

In addition to this, the whistleblower must either:

  • reasonably believe s/he would be victimised if s/he raised it internally or through the prescribed regulator;
  • reasonably believe a cover up was likely and that there was no prescribed regulator;
  • have already raised the matter internally or with the prescribed

Where a whistleblower is victimised following a protected disclosure s/he can make a claim to an Employment Tribunal for compensation.

There is no limit on the amount of the award of compensation;

There are no minimum qualifying service requirements;

If the whistleblower is dismissed s/he may apply to the Tribunal for interim relief and an order to retain their job until the hearing of the case;

Confidentiality clauses in contracts of employment or severance agreements ie. "gagging clauses", which conflict with the protection provided by the Act will not be legally binding.

What advice should you give?
The legislation introduces a new right not to be victimised or dismissed for making a protected disclosure. Not every disclosure will be protected and therefore in providing advice to a member who is considering whistleblowing you should have particular regard to whether the subject matter of the disclosure is protected and to whom the disclosure should properly be made.

Employers are now putting in place procedures to be followed in the event of an employee whistleblowing and it is important that the role of the union is recognised in any procedure.

In particular it is important that the procedure allows for an official to speak on behalf of (ie make the disclosure on behalf of) a member.

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