What is whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing is when a worker exposes illegal, illicit or dangerous activity happening in their workplace.
It is also known as ‘blowing the whistle’ or ‘making a protected disclosure’.
If you are a worker and you report certain types of wrongdoing, you can be classed as a whistleblower and covered by whistleblowing law.
What is an example of whistleblowing?
Disclosing or reporting any of the following counts as whistleblowing:
- Criminal activity, such as money laundering or fraud
- Failing to comply with legal obligations
- A miscarriage of justice
- Dangerous health and safety practices
- Environmental damage
- Attempting to cover up any of these types of wrongdoing.
What doesn’t count as whistleblowing?
Disclosing personal grievances and disputes, such as workplace bullying, doesn’t count as whistleblowing unless the case is in the public interest.
Are whistleblowers protected by law?
In the UK, whistleblowers have legal protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, or the Public Interest Disclosure (Northern Ireland) Order 1998.
To benefit from this legal protection, you must:
- Reasonably believe that the disclosed information is true;
- Reasonably believe that wrongdoing has happened or is likely to happen;
- Be classed as a worker; and
- Make the disclosure through the correct channels.
Who is protected as a whistleblower?
To be legally protected as a whistleblower, you must be classed as a worker.
You are classed as a worker if you are one of the following:
- An employee
- A trainee
- An agency worker
- A member of a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP).
How do I make a whistleblowing disclosure?
In most cases you should make a whistleblowing disclosure to your employer.
Many organisations have a whistleblowing policy which outlines how to make a disclosure. The policy should also highlight how internal whistleblowers are protected.
If you feel unable to report your concerns to your employer, you can seek advice about the best way to make a disclosure.
For example, you may be able to make a disclosure to a prescribed person or body - but you must make sure you choose the correct one for the issue you are raising.
If you are unsure about how to make a disclosure and would like some free advice, you can contact:
How am I protected as a whistleblower?
As a whistleblower, you are legally protected from unfair treatment following your disclosure.
If you have been subject to unfair treatment or unfair dismissal after making a protected disclosure, you can bring a claim against your employer at an employment tribunal.
If you are treated unfairly after whistleblowing, make sure you seek legal advice as soon as possible. A claim to the employment tribunal has to be made in within three months less one day of the unfair treatment or dismissal occurring.
Can employers use settlement agreements to silence a whistleblower?
After a disagreement or problem in the workplace, employers may propose a settlement agreement to the employee affected.
In return for signing a settlement agreement and waiving some of their statutory legal rights, the employee receives a compensatory lump sum payment which will usually be higher than what they would get if they went to court.
Settlement agreements often contain confidentiality clauses (commonly called ‘gagging clauses’) which prevent the employee from talking about any wrongdoing by the employer.
However, such confidentiality clauses may be deemed unenforceable and void by a court if it prevents the employee from whistleblowing.
If you wish to make a whistleblowing disclosure after signing a settlement agreement, it’s best to seek legal advice before doing so to avoid being in breach of any confidentiality clause within the agreement.