When can you blow the whistle on your employer?
Disclosures about the NHS and police have put changes to employment law in the spotlight
Saturday 29 June 2013
Legislation sometimes creeps into force with little fanfare. A whole raft of changes to our employment rights has gone almost unnoticed in the last few months.
Did you know, for example, that unpaid parental leave increased to 18 weeks, or that the consultation period for large-scale redundancies was reduced from 90 days to 45 days? But when the headline writers became obsessed with whistleblowers in the NHS and the police service the latest employment law changes were destined to be put under the spotlight. So when is it OK to be a whistleblower and when is it permissible for your employer to sack you for your efforts?
From last week, changes to the law means that the person who blows the whistle has some legal protection if making a “protected disclosure”, which, in the reasonable belief of the worker or employee, is made “in the public interest”. The previous requirement, that protected disclosures must be made “in good faith”, has been removed, but this now allows tribunals who decide otherwise to reduce any compensation by up to a quarter if the whistleblower had suffered some harm or “detriment”, or been dismissed.
You could be forgiven for complaining that the legislation isn't written in user-friendly prose. What exactly do “protected disclosure”, “reasonable belief”, “good faith”, “detriment” and “in the public interest” mean in practical terms and what are the chances of ending up on the wrong side of the law?
Lee Gabbie, employment law specialist and a partner at Bracher Rawlins LLP, says: “The Public Interest Disclosure Act came into force 15 years ago to protect individuals who raise matters 'in the public interest'. Since then, case law has taken the legislation way beyond its original scope, extending to the workplace matters which have little impact on the wider general public. These reforms are meant to rein in claims by ensuring that the protection is confined to matters of 'public interest'.”
So whether or not something is in the public interest is the key to your protection if you blow the whistle. The worry is that there's no cut and dried rule about what is and isn't in the public interest.
If you decide to blow a whistle and your employer reacts by sacking you, you're reliant on an employment tribunal to decide who's right and who's wrong. If it concludes that the disclosure you made was in the public interest you're protected; if not, you're out on your ear without any compensation.
However, one consequence of the public interest requirement is that blowing the whistle on breaches of your own employment contract isn't likely to count. If you have any complaints of that sort you will have to go through the company's grievance procedure.
Even if your disclosure is “in the public interest”, there's the additional question of whether or not you made it “in good faith”.
Up until now if you made a disclosure in bad faith – for example because you wanted to damage the company's reputation – your boss could sack you and win against you at an employment tribunal. Now that defence isn't enough.
Mr Gabbie says: “It's hoped that the new power of the employment tribunal to reduce damages awards by up to 25 per cent will prevent multiple claims. However, I'm rather sceptical that this will be a sufficient deterrent to 'bad faith' whistleblowers.”
If you do want to blow the whistle on some poor practice get legal advice as to the likely outcome. Employers should update their whistleblowing policy to reflect the changes and make sure employees know about them.
They should also make sure that other employees don't mistreat whistleblowers by bullying or harassing them. It's no longer just the employer's behaviour from which whistleblowers are protected.
Another change that came into force on Tuesday means that employees won't have a time limit on how long they must work for an employer before they can claim compensation for dismissal if the reason for it is political beliefs or affiliations.
There are more changes in the pipeline over the summer and autumn, such as the introduction of fees to make employment tribunal claims, new caps on compensation for unfair dismissal, and changes to the rules about transferring employees and their contracts to a new owner.
I'll keep you posted.
Q: I moved house about three months ago and keep getting mail for previous occupiers, despite sending them all back. It looked like they were from debt collection companies as there was a lot of red print, which I took to be warnings. The other day a letter addressed to “the owner” threatened me with court action and, if I didn't respond within two weeks, I faced losing the property. Surely I can't be held responsible for debts run up by someone else? What can I do to avoid a poor credit rating or be dragged through court?
A: Credit information, and details of payments made or missed on loans, cards and agreements, is not recorded by address but is specific to the person concerned. Someone else's bad payment record won't affect your credit history. Write back to the debt collection agency and make it clear you are the new owner and have no connections with the person who owes them money. Debt collection agencies are persistent as they believe they are being told lies by someone pretending to be the new owner. They can check on the electoral register and with the land registry to make sure it's you who owns the house. Then they will stop bothering you.
Mark Dampier: 'We're on our own in retirement. They've pulled pensions to pieces'
Questions of Cash: I don't use Amazon Prime, but my credit card bill says I do
HSBC becomes first bank to offer five-year fixed rate mortgage with interest rate under 2%
Crippling PFI deals leave Britain £222bn in debt
Pension freedoms: How to deal with cold calls from scammers
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
iJobs Money & Business
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...
£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...
£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...
£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...
Day In a Page
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
A boutique mews house, set around a central courtyard, with three bedrooms and a private roof terrace
A four-bedroom farm-conversion with three bathrooms and two reception rooms
A two-bedroom detached house with ensuite bathrooms and a sun-drenched decked terrace, £750,000
A modern and spacious two-bedroom, penthouse flat with two bathrooms in a prestigious development
A beautifully renovated five-bedroom terrace with three reception rooms and a courtyard garden, £700,000
A four-bedroom period house which has been extended to provide almost 2,500sq ft of living space, £675,000
A pretty three-bedroom Georgian home with a 22ft drawing room and a master suite with a balcony, £525,000