‘Whistle-blowing’ or ‘blowing the whistle’ is commonly understood as informing on someone who is doing something they shouldn’t. Under UK law, workers have special protections against detrimental treatment and dismissal when they make a qualifying disclosure of information.  Whistle-blowing is also referred to as making a ‘public interest disclosure’.

Whistle-blowing protection in the UK is limited and not everyone who alleges that their employer has done something wrong will be protected in law.

Any such disclosure must be made ‘in the public interest’ so, it will not be enough for a worker just to argue that their own rights have been infringed, they will need to show a wider impact.

In order to be a disclosure that qualifies for protection, it must relate to one (or more) of the following:

  • criminal activity
  • failure (or likely failure) to comply with a legal obligation
  • health and safety issues
  • environmental breaches
  • a miscarriage of justice
  • covering up of any of the above

The disclosure must be made to the employer, or to a regulatory body and, only in some limited cases, may be made to the press.

Whistle-blowing protection is limited and not everyone who alleges that their employer has done something wrong will be protected in law.


If an employer does take action against a worker for making a protected disclosure, such as dismissing them or victimising them, the worker will have the right to make a complaint to an employment tribunal.

It should be noted that an employee who wishes to bring a claim that they have been dismissed because they ‘blew the whistle’ does not have to have two years’ service.

Chris, who is a health and safety representative, complains to his employer about working conditions and alleges that worker’s lives are being put at risk. His employer responds by refusing Chris the opportunity to work overtime. This is a detriment, and Chris can make a complaint to an employment tribunal.

Published in…

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

Share this definition on

Other employment law terms

  1. ACAS Early Conciliation
  2. Adoption appointments
  3. Adoption leave
  4. Alternative dispute resolution
  5. Ante-natal care
  6. Apprenticeship
  7. Basic award
  8. Collective consultation
  9. Compensatory award
  10. Compromise agreement
  11. Constructive dismissal
  12. Contract of employment
  13. Disciplinary hearing
  14. Discrimination
  15. Employee shareholder
  16. Employment tribunal
  17. ETO reason
  18. Flexible working requests
  19. Grievance
  20. Gross misconduct
  21. Harassment
  22. Industrial action
  23. Injury to feelings
  24. Maternity and parental rights
  25. Maternity leave
  26. Maternity pay
  27. Mediation
  28. Parental leave
  29. Paternity leave and pay
  30. Polkey deduction
  31. Pre-termination negotiations
  32. Protected characteristics
  33. Redundancy
  34. Restrictive covenants
  35. Settlement agreement
  36. Shared parental leave
  37. Staff handbook
  38. Statutory annual leave
  39. Strikes
  40. Study and training rights
  41. Summary dismissal
  42. Sunday working
  43. Trade union
  44. TUPE
  45. Unfair dismissal
  46. Unlawful deductions
  47. Victimisation
  48. Without prejudice
  49. Working Time Regulations
  50. Written particulars
  51. Wrongful dismissal
  52. Zero hours contracts