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.
Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk
Buying property overseas? Check out these hotspots
Bargain Hunter: Exclusive discount on a SmartGlider - a self-balancing electric scooter
Questions of Cash: I've been chased for a phantom debt. What can I do to stop it haunting my credit status?
Offset mortgages: How to save thousands of pounds and reduce the term of your home loan
My Travel Cash card charges a punitive 'inactivity' fee of €2.50 a month
- 1 What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
- 4 Bob Geldof offers to take four refugee families into his home 'immediately' as he condemns humanitarian crisis as a ‘f**king disgrace'
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
iJobs Money & Business
£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...
£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...
£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...
Day In a Page
This five-bedroom home in Sutton Coldfield is arranged over three floors, with a detached garage to the rear and a driveway at the front of the property.
In an elevated position above the bay, this four-bedroom home offers sea and headland views. There is a decked balcony and sun terrace - plus coastal walks on the doorstep.
With four bedrooms, this spacious maisonette in a mid-terrace period-style house in Holland Road is well-maintained and offers high ceilings and period features.
The terraces of this two-bedroom penthouse apartment offer panoramic views that stretch over fifty miles from the cliffs of Beachy Head.
In the heart of the coastal village of Mumbles and moments from the pier, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is set over three floors and retains many original features.
In a sandbanks location, moments from the beach, this three-bedroom apartment has a large open-plan living area and a south-west facing balcony.
This four-bedroom home has an annexe accessed from the side of the house, with potential for improvement and conversion subject to the necessary permissions.
In the heart of the hamlet of Wardley, this five-bedroom period home offers countryside views and a stylish interior, with original features and open fireplaces.
Offering countryside views and landscaped gardens, this three-bedroom Grade II-listed lodge has a spacious conservatory and a large cellar that could serve as a workshop.
Set in approximately 1.5 acres, this four-bedroom home comes with a second, detached property that's currently used as an annexe.
In the hamlet of Newchurch, this former parish church is now a four-bedroom home complete with clock tower and eyrie.
Offering scenic views from a large balcony and sun terrace, this four-bedroom home has a wraparound garden and a heated swimming pool.
Offering views across the Humber and East Yorkshire Wolds from a glass panelled balcony, this four-bedroom barn-style home befits a life of leisure.
This four-bedroom home offers versatile accommodation with annexe potential; features include a hot tub, sauna and Norwegian BBQ hut.
Well-located for schools, colleges and the town centre, this contemporary thatched cottage offers flexible living space with six bedrooms.
Built in 1907, this four-bedroom Edwardian period home has been refurbished by the current owners, retaining many original period features.
Surrounded by landscaped gardens, this five-bedroom home offers living space across three floors.
This lovely country home in Burnham Market is currently run as a popular holiday cottage, with five en suite bedrooms and colourful gardens.
This three-bedroom 17th-century former village bakery is just a few miles from the East Sussex coast.
Set on a landscaped plot, this light and airy four-bedroom home comes with a log burner in the lounge, a fitted kitchen and an open-plan ground-floor layout.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Built on a former chapel site, this impressive four-bedroom home boasts balconies, stunning views and contemporary modern living.
This three-bedroom house is situated in a quiet mews and set over three floors. Features include glazed staircases and high ceilings.
A period townhouse set over four floors, this five-bedroom home was built in the 18th Century and retains many original features.
With five bedrooms, this spacious home offers beautiful gardens and modern interiors - set within the popular market town of Bingley.
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.
In the pretty market town of Bungay, this grade II-listed Mill House is arranged over four floors, offering four bedrooms and three reception areas.
This first-floor flat comes with two bedrooms, an impressive open-plan reception room and two lovely roof terraces.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Moored at Taggs Island and reached via a pretty garden, this two-bedroom houseboat has a vaulted reception room and skylit garden studio - currently a beauty salon.
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.
A contemporary house spread over three storeys, this three-bedroom detached home has large sliding doors that open out to the River Quaggy.
Moored in Chelsea's Cheyne Walk, this houseboat offers two double bedrooms and a teak deck that's ideal for al-fresco dining.
This former village bakery, dating back to the 17th century, is now a three-bedroom detached home just a few miles from the East Sussex coast.
On the picturesque Isle of Man, this four-bedroom character home has a ground-floor shop that's currently run as a newsagents and a flat that would make an ideal holiday let.
In a new collection of flats, this first-floor two-bedroom apartment offers ample entertaining space and a prime view of Furze Green from a private balcony.
This three-bedroom stone-built cottage currently trades as the village store with a restaurant in the annexe and family accommodation on the upper floors.
Previously two semi-detached properties, this five-bedroom home is spread over three floors with a large breakfast kitchen, orangery, office and gym on the second floor.
This five-bedroom home enjoys countryside views over the Blyth estuary to Southwold, offering flexible living space with a ground-floor annexe - ideal for use as a holiday let.
Close to the market town of Eye, this four-bedroom detached home offers a double-height living room which takes the place of the original, 19th-century, chapel nave.
Dating back to the 19th century, this four-bedroom home needs modernising. Spanning three storeys, the red-brick house has a fireplace, a small terrace and a cellar.
Just outside of Cambridge, this single-storey home offers three double bedrooms, a living room with vaulted timber ceiling and ladder steps that lead to a mezzanine study area.
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.
A former coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, an attached office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Located beside an impressive Victorian viaduct, this four-bedroom home has an open-plan living area that is glazed on two sides, with skylights and high ceilings.
A former furniture workshop, this three-bedroom home has high ceilings and painted brick walls, in a village setting only fifteen miles from the coast.
This five-bedroom stone townhouse features a pine staircase and an Inglenuk fireplace, double doors from the lounge give access to an enclosed courtyard.
This five-bedroom, detached home blends traditional and modern design; the sleek kitchen features a gas hob and oven set within an exposed chimney breast.
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.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.