The UK Government defines a whistleblower as a someone who discloses wrongdoing in the public interest.
This is often, but not always in a workplace setting. For the wrongdoing to be in the public interest it must have an impact on others, such as the general public.
Whistleblowing can be challenging for the whistleblower, partly because it may mean they must question their own ethical considerations; but also because in response, they may find their personal and professional credibility under attack.
There have been notable cases of whistleblowing in the NHS and government agencies, but in reality, it can be something that occurs in any workplace, depending on the circumstances individuals find themselves in.
Whistleblowers can be employees in public or private service, trainees, agency workers or members of a limited liability partnership.
Here we look at what protection whistleblowers have under the law.
What Are Whistleblowing Complaints?
Typically, a whistleblowing complaint will be when you report a criminal offence in the workplace, such as fraud; or if a company is breaking the law in some way.
It can also be about workplace situations where someone’s health and safety is at risk; or there is a risk to the environment.
Whistleblowing also applies to miscarriages of justice in the workplace; or where you think someone is deliberately covering up something they have done.
It is important that the complaint is a whistleblowing complaint if you are going to be protected legally as a whistleblower.
Some complaints are not counted as whistleblowing. These include personal grievances such as bullying, harassment or discrimination. Instead, you would need to pursue these sorts of complaints under your employer’s grievance policy.
How Does Protection for Whistleblowers Apply?
For protection to apply to you as a whistleblower, you must make your complaint to the right person in the right way.
If your employer has whistleblowing policy, there may be procedure to follow. Or you might make the disclosure to your employer directly, or to a person in your organisation responsible for the area of concern you are raising.
This could be a health and safety representative, for instance.
Depending on your place of employment and your complaint, you might make your disclosure to a prescribed person or body.
You might also first seek legal advice before making your disclosure. If you are taking legal advice, you can then disclose the wrongdoing to your legal adviser.
You can make a whistleblowing complaint anonymously, but if the person you make it to feels they do not have enough information, they may not be able to take it further.
You can, however, request confidentiality after making the complaint, making it clear you do not want anyone else to know you have raised this concern.
You do not have any say in how your whistleblowing concern is dealt with, nor does the person or body you have told necessarily have to keep you informed of the progress of your complaint.
Your Treatment as a Whistleblower
You should have protection under the law as a whistleblower, but if you feel you are then unfairly treated, such as being dismissed, you can take it to an employment tribunal.
If you feel you have been unfairly dismissed, you must raise any claim related to it within three months of ending your employment. Also, if you did raise your original whistleblowing concern anonymously, if may be difficult to prove that your dismissal is related to it.
There is further information about unfair dismissal from Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. If you want to take your case to an employment tribunal, you must notify Acas.
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