Can You Be Fired For Whistleblowing?

Caragh Bailey
5 min read
Whistleblowing: Can You Be Fired explained by Employment Law Friend
Protected Disclosure, often called whistleblowing, is when an individual raises a concern, usually within the workplace. Although, it can be to an external body, about an issue of broader public concern that arises from their workplace, such as the employer doing something illegal, or which is harmful to health and safety or the environment.

If raised to an external body, this should be a “suitable” organisation, which might include the police, the Council, the Home Office, the Environment Agency, or Ofsted for example, depending on what the issue is.

It is occasionally appropriate to raise this entirely externally, for example with a journalist, but this is very rarely an appropriate way to raise a protected disclosure, and it is better to raise the matter with an organisation with responsibility for investigating the matter and taking action.

Are whistleblowers protected from being fired?

There are various ways in which whistleblowers are protected within employment law, and the protections are divided into two types, dismissal and detriment. Dismissal means what is says on the tin: if you are dismissed for whistleblowing then that is an automatically unfair dismissal, meaning the employer cannot succeed in saying it was fair.

Unlike most forms of unfair dismissal, there is no requirement that you have been employed for two years before you are able to claim this.

If you are an employee and you have been dismissed for whistleblowing, then you can claim unfair dismissal even from your first day.
Protection for whistleblowing applies to workers and employees.

Technically workers cannot bring a claim for unfair dismissal for whistleblowing, but if a worker does lose their job, then can bring a claim for detriment which would include the loss of their role, and in practice the financial compensation will be the same.

What percentage of whistleblowers get fired?

It is impossible to say how many whistle blowers lose their roles because the reasons behind a dismissal will often be disputed between the employee and employer. In most cases the employee simply moves on, and even when they start the process of bringing a claim, or bring one, the vast majority of cases settle without any finding being made.

Also, many cases the whistle blowing may have played a role in the decision to dismiss, but there were other factors too, and on occasions people facing internal hearings which are likely to result in a dismissal anyway, will then decide to whistle blow.

It is therefore impossible to say how frequent a problem this is, but the point of the legal protections is to ensure that workers and employees are able to raise issues when very often that is the only way of bringing the wrongdoing to light.

How are whistleblowers protected UK?

For anything less than dismissal that occurs because you have whistle blowed, you need to bring a detriment claim, which is where you claim that because you raised a protected disclosure, you were subject to a detriment.

A detriment can be almost anything – a manager shouting at you, being given extra/more unpleasant tasks, not getting a pay rise or promotion – anything that is a “negative” in your workplace and is caused by your whistleblowing will be considered to be a detriment.

In reality it can be more difficult to claim that more minor detriments were because of a protected disclosure, rather than just negative behaviour, but claims can be about any type of detriment. Compensation for detriments is in the form of an “injury to feelings” award, like those awarded in discrimination cases.

In some situations compensation will also include a non-injury to feelings award, where there was a financial loss suffered, for example if you do not get a pay rise or bonus because of raising a protected disclosure, then you can be awarded the net financial value of these.

Are you facing issues after whistleblowing?

There is much more to winning your case than simply being in the right, our employment law specialist advisors know the law and legal tactics to make sure you get the best chance at a fair settlement. Get in contact with us and see how we can help.

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Frequently Asked Questions

If your conduct in raising a protected disclosure is enough to merit dismissal separately, you can be fired for the way in which you have blown the whistle, rather than for whistleblowing itself.

In the case of Kong Vs Gulf International Bank the claimant disclosed concerns about the drafting of a legal document which amounted to protected disclosure. The person responsible for the document complained and the claimant was dismissed because she was found to have made an unacceptable personal attack on the document drafter's abilities, reflecting wider issues with the claimant's people skills. The Tribunal found that this conduct was separate from the disclosure itself as reason for dismissal.

An appeal was brought on the basis that the claimants behaviour was not serious enough to be a separate reason for dismissal. However, the EAT upheld the tribunal's decision, saying that there is no reason for the claimants behaviour to reach any threshold of severity to become separable.

If the whistleblower's conduct is proper and reasonable, it is highly unlikely that it could be found to be the cause of an employer's detrimental treatment, separate from whistleblowing.
This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of our company. For employment law advice please get in contact and speak to your employment law solicitors.
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