Whistleblowing: top legal firm issues legal guidance for employers

A rise in workers ‘speaking out’ about issues ranging from workplace safety to furlough fraud has led to new legal whistleblowing guidance for employers from Thursfields Solicitors.

The leading Midlands law firm’s advice comes as the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted concerns about the legal standing of those who make their concerns a public issue.

Whistleblowing & The Law…

Lisa Kemp, an associate director in the Employment & HR Law team at Thursfields, explained it is not always obvious that a worker is whistleblowing, which is a technical area of law with lots of angles.

Lisa said: “While this is a complex subject, if a whistleblowing complaint is not spotted or is mishandled, an employer may find themselves on the receiving end of costly litigation.

“It is therefore crucial to understand that whistleblowing, in broad terms, is a worker disclosing information about past, present or imminent wrongdoing in the workplace or an attempt to conceal the same – typically to their own employer or a regulator.

“The disclosure of information can be oral or in writing and need not be formal, which is why a whistleblowing complaint can be easy to miss.

“Workers disclosing such information must have a reasonable belief that doing so is in the public interest.

“A worker acting purely in self-interest will not be protected, although they could well be protected for blowing the whistle about breaches of individual employment rights where the disclosure is also in their own personal interest.”

Lisa pointed out that whistleblowing legislation protects workers, including employees, from being subjected to any detriment on the grounds that they have made a ‘protected disclosure’.

Employees are further safeguarded because if the principal reason for a dismissal is that they made a protected disclosure, this is automatically regarded as an unfair dismissal.

She said: “This is crucial, and employers need to know that there is no cap on levels of compensation which can be awarded in such cases, where interim relief is also available in some circumstances.

“Organisations should therefore be encouraged to see effective whistleblowing procedures as part of their good governance strategy. 

“Effective whistleblowing procedures can uncover hidden occupational issues, and dealing with a complaint promptly will help to avoid issues escalating, therefore mitigating litigation risk and reputational damage.

“Fostering an open culture can also create better working relationships with loyal employees more likely to make an internal report than complain externally or publicly.”

Lisa added: “Prohibiting staff from speaking out is not allowed, and therefore any provision in an agreement, including a worker’s contract, trying to prevent whistleblowing will be void, as will non-disclosure agreements seeking to gag workers making protected disclosures.

“We have a team of experienced lawyers who can support businesses by providing bespoke management training and drafting effective policies, and we also undertake investigations and defend whistleblowing claims.”  

Any company or organisation needing more guidance on whistleblowing can contact Lisa Kemp on 0345 20 73 72 8 or by email at lkemp@thursfields.co.uk.

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