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Whistleblowers in the Workplace

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 23 Nov 2019 | comments*Discuss
Workers' Rights Whistleblower

There are many rights of workers that are protected by law in the United Kingdom but, as there are no 'work police', how are those laws enforced? There are two ways: either a victim takes legal action against the company, or a witness to the action 'blows the whistle' to alert people, either inside the company or outside, that an offence has been committed. Hence the term 'whistleblower' describes a person who speaks up, and is believed to come from the whistles that British policemen used to warn the public and summon help.

Protection by Law

Whistleblowers are protected by the Public Interest Act of 1998, which applies as long as they are disclosing an offence, or a cover up, of a criminal offence, environmental damage or health and safety violation. There are caveats, one of them being that if you have signed the Official Secrets Act then you are unlikely to be covered. Breach of confidence clauses in an Employment Contract will be ineffective as long as a whistleblower is truly disclosing confidential information in good faith.

In order to be protected by the law, the disclosure of information has to follow a certain procedure. If you decide to tell people within the organisation, it's important to follow any procedure they have laid down to allow people to pass on sensitive information in a protected manner. You should also take the complaint to the correct person, so, for example, if it is a health and safety breach, the complaint must be made to whoever has responsibility for Health And Safety in the firm.

Blowing the Whistle Outside the Organisation

If, because perhaps the person to whom the complaint should be made is also the person who is responsible for the breach, it is necessary to make a complaint outside the company, things get a little trickier. There is a long list of agencies in the UK to whom the complaint must be made to in order to receive the full protection of the law, and it has to be the appropriate agency for the type of offence.

For example, a complaint about a release of toxic waste would probably need to be made to the Environmental Agency. Advice can be given by ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, that runs various helplines and can be found through the web or telephone directories.

Open Disclosure

If the whistleblower feels that disclosing their information through a prescribed agency or at work would result in detrimental treatment toward them, they can make a general disclosure (i.e. to the press) but only if they are acting in good faith, not for personal gain, and the disclosures are true. It's important to get this right, but it's also useful to know that informing a legal advisor while getting advice on the subject will not jeopardise the protection afforded by the law.

Those people working in a Government appointed body can also gain protection by making their complaint to a minister. It is worth taking legal advice before going down this road too, because although the protection of the law is there, there is a high risk, depending on the nature of the compliant, that the whistleblower may become a target.

Employees Only

If a whistleblower is sacked or otherwise victimised after breaking cover, they can sue for unfair dismissal, but this only applies to employees or workers with fixed-term contracts, not agency workers or casual workers. If there is any uncertainty about this position or any other aspect of whistleblowing, then as well as ACAS, the Citizens Advice Bureau or a relevant trade union can help, too.

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I was made to go against procedure when administration of medicineby the patients mother. is this grounds for dismissal. I also whistle blow her for ina propriety use of medicine
sezbo - 23-Nov-19 @ 5:47 PM
I'm on the sick due to depression as argued with a colleague and she was aggressive to me as she had been caught smoking and she thought that I reported her . I've reported it to manager and she given a disciplinary date but now she on sick with stress I don't know if I should return to work or stay on the sick as I'm worried about returning to work
Gayle - 18-Jun-16 @ 4:53 PM
Is someone allowed to scan a fackbook page of someones account which then passed onto an employer to be used as evidence in an investigation or more even though the do not have consent from the the account owner?
fhm73 - 27-Nov-15 @ 3:05 AM
@Sk69 - I think in this case you need to call Acas via the link hereas it seems you need some free direct advice regarding your situation. I hope this helps.
WorkingRights - 9-Feb-15 @ 11:53 AM
I walked out of work after an argument with my supervisor and then I emailed the company the past my email on to the manager which the complaint was partly about and I had a meeting with her which she basically said im a liar and I am not allowed back to work till she writes to H R so i not been to work for a weekdon't know if I will get paid or anything is this right
Sk69 - 8-Feb-15 @ 8:21 PM
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