Employers should not treat workers who have made a protected disclosure (otherwise known as whistleblowing) detrimentally. Financial liability for having done so is unlimited, and workers are protected from day one.

Furthermore, a recent case has held that an employer will avoid liability only if the disclosure played no part whatsoever in the detrimental treatment. This brings protection in line with other anti-discrimination law, and provides better protection than there used to be.

So, what might amount to a protected disclosure, and what do employers need to watch out for? The legislation says that protected disclosures include statements tending to show that a person or company has failed to comply with any of its legal obligations. This does not have to be true; it is enough to have a reasonable belief that it is.

In this case, expressing concerns to a line manager that a colleague had lied about his qualifications was sufficient to amount to a protected disclosure. In another case, a complaint that the worker’s contract of employment had been breached was sufficient. And in another, a complaint that the employer had failed to follow its equal opportunities policy was also actionable.

It is therefore possible that the vast majority of grievances amount to protected disclosures if made in the right way and for the right reason. Hence the advice to proceed with extreme caution.

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Updates: For employers: Discrimination | For employees: Grievances and raising your complaint |

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