The official name for whistleblowing is ‘making a disclosure in the public interest’, however it is much more commonly called ‘blowing the whistle’ or ‘whistleblowing’.
It means that if a worker believes there is wrongdoing in the workplace (eg the employer is committing a criminal offence) they can report this by following the correct processes, and their employment rights are protected.
Whistleblowers are protected for public interest, to encourage people to speak out if they find malpractice in an organisation or workplace.
Malpractice could be improper, illegal or negligent behaviour by anyone in the workplace.
Protection for blowing the whistle
Workers are protected as a whistleblower if they:
- are a 'worker'
- believe that malpractice in the workplace is happening, has happened in the past or will happen in the future
- are revealing information of the right type (a 'qualifying disclosure')
- reveal it to the right person, and in the right way (making it a 'protected disclosure')
'Worker' has a special wide meaning in the case of whistleblowing. As well as employees it includes, agency workers and people who aren't employed but are in training with employers. Some self-employed people may be considered to be workers for the purpose of whistleblowing if they are supervised or work off-site.
To be protected as a whistleblower workers need to make a ‘qualifying disclosure’ about malpractice. This could be a disclosure about:
- criminal offences
- failure to comply with a legal obligation
- miscarriages of justice
- threats to an individual’s health and safety
- damage to the environment
- a deliberate attempt to cover up any of the above
There are some disclosures that can’t be qualifying disclosures. Workers won’t be protected for whistleblowing if:
- they break the law when making a disclosure (for example if they signed the Official Secrets Act as part of their employment contract)
- the information is protected under legal professional privilege (eg if the information was disclosed when someone wanted legal advice)
For the disclosure to be protected by the law a worker should make it to the right person and in the right way. They must:
- make the disclosure in good faith (which means with honest intent and without malice)
- reasonably believe that the information is substantially true
- reasonably believe they are making the disclosure to the right 'prescribed person'
If they make a qualifying disclosure in good faith to the employer, or through a process that the employer has agreed, they are protected. They should check their employment contract to see if the employer has set out a process for whistleblowing.
If a workers feel unable to make a disclosure to the employer then there are other 'prescribed people' they can make a disclosure to.