The Court of Appeal has recently heard a case which has attracted some notoriety, brought by Dr Beatt against the trust he used to work for, Croydon Health Services NHS Trust. His brought a whistleblowing claim based on allegations he had made about hospital practices, patient safety and poor equipment at the NHS, amongst other things.
In response to Dr Beatt’s claim, the NHS Trust explained that they had believed, when they dismissed him, that the allegations Dr Beatt had raised were more to do with his poor relationships with certain of his colleagues than because he had any true belief in them.
Whistle blowing disclosures are only “protected” where the individual reasonably believes that their disclosure is in the public interest. Because they thought the allegations were personally motivated, the Trust did not therefore believe that they were protected disclosures, and that they could therefore dismiss on grounds of them.
The Court of Appeal has held that whether the employer (in this case the NHS Trust) believes the disclosures are protected or not is actually irrelevant. Whether disclosures are protected is an objective test, and the point of view of the employer is irrelevant.
The Court of Appeal upheld Dr Beatt’s claim.
It is very easy for employers to assume that whistle blowing allegations have been made in bad faith by employees (the legal test is actually that the disclosure must be made in the reasonable belief that a breach of the law has occurred, and the reasonable belief that it is in the public interest), and therefore do not attract the protection of the whistle blowing legislation.
However, when dismissing someone in the context of serious allegations having been made, this case illustrates that employers should think twice before coming to the conclusion that the disclosures are not protected. If in doubt, they should proceed on the basis that the disclosures are protected, if they can.