The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) – often referred to as the ‘Whistleblowing’ Act – was introduced in the wake of various workplace scandals and disasters after official enquiries revealed that workers had known of the situation but were too scared to come forward to raise the alarm.
PIDA provides a legal remedy for people who suffer a detriment as a result of disclosing information relating to crimes, breaches of a legal obligation, miscarriages of justice, dangers to health and safety or the environment and to the concealing of evidence relating to any of these. In particular, PIDA makes it automatically unfair dismissal to dismiss an employee for making a protected disclosure to someone to whom they are entitled to make it or to penalise them for doing so. There is no statutory cap on the compensation payable for claims derived from whistleblowing.
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 made certain changes to the whistleblowing laws. Firstly, a legal loophole which meant that the definition of public interest included someone blowing the whistle about the terms of their own employment contract has been closed so that a disclosure will not be protected unless the employee making it reasonably believes that doing so is in the public interest. Secondly, the requirement that a worker who makes a protected disclosure must be acting in good faith in order to be protected against dismissal for having made it has been removed. In its place, an Employment Tribunal (ET) will have the power to reduce the compensation award by 25 per cent if it finds that a disclosure was not made in good faith. Lastly, the law has been strengthened so that individuals who suffer a detriment at the hands of a co-worker for making a protected disclosure can bring ET claims against both their co-worker and their employer in respect of that detriment. Employers will not be held liable for the actions of the co-worker if they can show that all reasonable steps were taken to protect the worker from the co-worker’s action.
In March 2015, the Government published ‘Whistleblowing – Guidance for Employers and Code of Practice’. The guidance is intended to help employers understand the law relating to whistleblowing, put in place a whistleblowing policy and recognise the benefits that employee disclosures can bring to an organisation. The Code of Practice gives examples of what a whistleblowing policy should commit to and how it should be managed.
In June 2015, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills updated the list of prescribed persons and bodies to whom a disclosure can be made.
In addition, a person may choose to blow the whistle to their legal adviser, in the course of obtaining legal advice, or to a member of the House of Commons about any matter specified in the Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons) Order 2014. Contact details for Members of Parliament can be found on the UK Parliament website. The updated list of prescribed persons and bodies can be found on the Government’s website.
Further changes to the whistleblowing regime are included in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, which received Royal Assent on 26 March 2015. The Act permits regulations to require annual reporting by prescribed persons, covering (amongst other things) the number of complaints received and the action taken, and to prohibit discrimination against applicants for NHS jobs on the ground that they have made protected disclosures.