Your privacy is important to us.
‘Whistleblowing’ is when an employee or worker discloses that something unethical or illegal is happening, doing so in the public interest. Under the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, ‘blowing the whistle’ in this manner is more formally known as ‘making a disclosure in the public interest’. The legislation provides protection for whistleblowers from losing their job and/or being treated detrimentally as a result of making a qualifying disclosure.
A whistleblower is protected from detrimental treatment/dismissal if they are:
‘Worker’ has a special and wide meaning for these protections. As well as employees it includes agency workers and people who aren’t employed but are in training with employers.
Under Northern Ireland employment legislation, it is automatically unfair to dismiss someone for making a protected disclosure.
It is also important to be aware that ‘public interest’ does not necessarily mean large numbers of people need to be impacted or interested. The Tribunal will take a case-by-case approach.
There are six key steps that employers should take in order to ensure that they handle whistleblowing complaints effectively and within the law, these include:
Important changes to the Northern Ireland law on whistleblowing were made in October 2017 and those who have responsibility for an organisation’s whistleblowing policy should be aware of them. For example, it is now the Employment Tribunal (and not the employer) who decides what is, or is not, in the public interest.
Where a whistleblower is treated unfairly afterwards by a colleague, the employer now has ‘vicarious liability’, meaning they are jointly responsible and a claim can be taken against both the employer and the colleague.
In a recent whistleblowing case in NI, a vet who left the Department of Agriculture and Environment received a £1.25 million settlement and apology after a successful constructive dismissal and whistleblowing claim.
The Claimant raised concerns about animal welfare and problems in the meat supply chain to the Department. However, their warnings were ignored.
They resigned in April 2018 after being made to feel “excluded, ignored and undermined” for bringing such issues to the Department’s attention. A Tribunal in September 2021 found that they had been constructively dismissed.
The substantial settlement amount in this case is a stark reminder to employers of how important it is to have a robust whistleblowing procedure and to take legal advice if they believe a qualifying disclosure is made.
If you would like to seek further information about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact our Employment team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor.