Springhouse Solicitors

Whistleblowing: interest of 100 = “public interest”?

We report on the EAT’s first decision since the introduction of the new rule protecting whistleblowers only where their disclosure is made in the public interest?

Background

Mr Nurmohamed was employed by the estate agent Chestertons and worked in their Mayfair branch. He raised complaint to his area director that he believed the company was manipulating its accounts, so that the 100 senior managers were getting lower commission than they should.

Mr Nurmohamed was subsequently dismissed by Chestertons, and he brought a whistleblowing claim, saying that he had been subjected to detriments because he had made the complaint.

Chestertons responded to the claim by saying that Mr Nurmohamed’s disclosure was not made in the public interest, but that it was made only in his own interest, or alternatively in the interest of the 100 senior managers. Neither group, they said, could be large enough to represent the ‘public interest’.

The EAT were happy that the disclosure had, indeed, been made in the public interest. They rejected the argument that Mr Nurmohamed had made the disclosure only for his own private benefit, saying that while the complaint was principally for his own benefit, he did have the other 100 managers in mind when he made it.

On the question of whether the 100 managers were enough to represent the public interest, the EAT held that it was enough that a section of the public would be affected. It is inevitable that only a section of the public will ever be affected by a disclosure.

Implications

Here, the EAT have found that it is only necessary for a disclosure to be relevant to a relatively small portion of the public for it to be in the ‘public interest’.

Furthermore, it should be remembered that it is only a requirement that the employee reasonably believes that the public will be affected.