3. Dismissals and whistleblowing

A worker can’t be dismissed because of whistleblowing. If they are, they can claim unfair dismissal - they’ll be protected by law as long as certain criteria are met.

Types of whistleblowing eligible for protection

These are called ‘qualifying disclosures’. They include when someone reports:

  • that someone’s health and safety is in danger
  • damage to the environment
  • a criminal offence
  • that the company isn’t obeying the law (like not having the right insurance)
  • that someone’s covering up wrongdoing

Who is protected

The following people are protected:

  • employees
  • agency workers
  • people that are training with an employer, but not employed
  • self-employed workers, if supervised or working off-site

You’re also protected if you work in a school or sixth-form college, whether you’re an employee or an agency worker.

NHS workers who work under certain contractual arrangements, eg certain GPs and dentists, are also protected.

A worker will be eligible for protection if:

  • they honestly think what they’re reporting is true
  • they think they’re telling the right person
  • they believe that their disclosure is in the public interest

Who isn’t protected

Workers aren’t protected from dismissal if:

  • they break the law when they report something, eg they signed the Official Secrets Act
  • they found out about the wrongdoing when someone wanted legal advice (‘legal professional privilege’), eg if they’re a solicitor

Workers who aren’t employees can’t claim unfair dismissal because of whistleblowing, but they are protected and can claim ‘detrimental treatment’.

Tribunals

Workers dismissed for whistleblowing can go to an employment tribunal or an industrial tribunal in Northern Ireland.

If the tribunal decides the employee has been unfairly dismissed, it will order that they are:

  • reinstated (get their job back)
  • paid compensation

A tribunal judge can reduce any compensation awarded by 25% if they find the person has acted dishonestly.

A whistleblower who is bullied at work will also be able to bring a claim to the employment tribunal against their employer or colleagues.

Whistleblowing abroad

Workers are protected from unfair treatment even if they blow the whistle on something that happened abroad. This includes when a different country’s law has been or will be broken.