Whistle-blowing: know your rights at work
Whistle-blowing is when someone reports something that is seriously wrong, dangerous or illegal at work. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 provides rights and protections for staff that raise genuine concerns about things that are happening in their workplace. Generally the Act covers everyone at work and most occupations. Exclusions apply to Volunteers, the Armed Forces and Police Officers. The Public Disclosure Act 1998 will protect the employee as long as the disclosure has been made in ‘good faith’ and is in the ‘public interest’. Concerns could revolve around any number of issues including; crimes, theft or fraud, issues that endanger staff, customers or the local community or actions associated with health, safety and environmental risks.
Legally, you are expected to use procedures available at your workplace in the first instance, such as speaking to a senior manager, a trade union representative or using the company’s Grievance Procedure before you take the issue to an outside body, except in the most serious cases. If the company fails to respond appropriately, you can take the issue to ‘the appropriate official body’. This can be, for example, the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency, HM Revenue and Customs, the Serious Fraud Office or the Audit Commission, or indeed any other official organisation that deals with issues that revolve around your workplace associated complaint.
Public Concern at Work is an organisation that offers practical help and advice on whistle-blowing issues (http://www.pcaw.org.uk/). However there are some general guidelines that you should all be aware of; only in the most serious cases should an individual make wider disclosures to say, for example an MP or the police. You should always approach your employer first and then the appropriate official body. You will only be protected under the Act for wider disclosures, if the issue was very serious, for example someone’s life was at risk.
If you are dismissed or victimised at work after making a public interest disclosure, you can make a claim at the Employment Tribunal. There is no qualifying period to make a claim and compensation awards are the usual remedy. Confidentiality clauses in your contract of employment will not be legally binding when you make a public interest disclosure. However it is important to note that you will not normally be protected by the Act if you whistle-blow to the media and you could be at risk for slander or libel action being bought against you by your employer.
If you have genuine whistle-blowing concerns at work always report them, but remember it is always important to get advice. If your concern is very serious (someone could be seriously harmed or even die) call the police otherwise, contact Public Concern at Work (020 7404 6609), ACAS (0300 123 1100), or Advanced People Management, for whistle-blowing issues APM will not charge you for our service.
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