‘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.

Enforcement

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.

Example:
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.

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

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