Whistleblowing

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 provides employees with protection from dismissal or other detriment (such as victimisation or disciplinary action) when they 'blow the whistle' on their employers. A summary of the provisions of the Act are given below.

Protected disclosures

An employee must make a 'protected disclosure' to be protected by the provisions of the Act. This means that it must disclose one of a list of specified malpractices. These are:

  • a criminal offence;
  • failure to comply with a legal obligation;
  • miscarriage of justice;
  • endangerment of a person's health and safety;
  • damage to the environment; and
  • concealment of any of these malpractices.

The disclosure must also comply with a set of conditions which vary according to whom the disclosure is made.

Disclosure to an employer

A disclosure to an employer will be protected if the employee makes it in good faith and reasonably believes it shows one of the malpractices.

Disclosure to a legal adviser

Any disclosure to a legal adviser need not be made in good faith. An employee must simply hold a reasonable belief that his disclosure shows one of the specified malpractices.

Disclosure to a regulator

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has designated certain regulatory bodies to which disclosures may be made. If employees make a disclosure to a regulator they must:

  • make the disclosure in good faith;
  • reasonably believe that the malpractice falls within the body's remit; and
  • reasonably believe that the information disclosed is substantially true.

External disclosures

Employees making a disclosure to someone other than their employer, legal adviser or an appropriate regulatory body must satisfy a harder test. Employees must:

  • make the disclosure in good faith;
  • reasonably believe that the information is substantially true;
  • not make the disclosure for personal gain; and
  • reasonably believe they will suffer detriment if they make the disclosure to the regulator (where a regulator has been designated) or that evidence will be concealed or destroyed if they make the disclosure to their employer (where no regulator is designated). Alternatively, employees will be protected if they have already made the same disclosure to their employer or the regulator.

In addition to these criteria, it must be reasonable in all circumstances for employees to make the disclosure.