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Whistleblowing – case law update

Workers have long been protected from dismissal for blowing the whistle by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.  The legal test changed in March 2013 when the former good faith requirement was removed and replaced with the requirement that a worker held a reasonable belief their disclosure was in the public interest. Prior to this there was no requirement for a disclosure to be in the public interest, despite the Act’s name.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has recently ruled for the first time on the meaning of the public interest test. The case concerned a worker who was dismissed shortly after complaining about accounting inaccuracies which had the effect of reducing his own as well as 100 other employees’ bonuses.

The EAT confirmed the disclosure was in the public interest as the worker did have his colleagues interests in mind, despite the fact the evidence suggested he had mainly personal motives in making the disclosure. The EAT also reiterated that a disclosure could be protected even if it wasn’t strictly in the public interest but in circumstances where the worker reasonably believed it to be.

It will therefore be important for employers to remember that the legal test is whether the worker’s belief was reasonable, not whether the disclosure actually is in the public interest, before taking any action against a potential whistle-blower.

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