Whistle while you work?

Posted: 28th May 2010


Steam WhistleEarly days, but we wait with interest to see what will be the impact of recent amendments to the Employment Tribunals Rules of Procedure and the ET1 originating application by which employees begin claims for unfair dismissal, discrimination, etc.

If the claimant alleges that he or she made a protected disclosure and gives consent, the ET may now send a copy of the claim form, or part of it, to a relevant independent regulator who will, no doubt, consider and if appropriate investigate a complaint further.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act has been around since 1998. It followed the conclusions reached in so many public enquiries into major events - Zeebrugge, Piper Alpha, Clapham, Maxwell, AlderHey amongst others - that employees of organizations had known that something was seriously wrong but feared reprisals if they spoke out.

One might be forgiven for wondering whether amidst recent notable events there is evidence of the initiative having lost its way but a recent report by accountants Grant Thornton suggests that many UK businesses have made good progress in this area. An estimated 54% of UK businesses now have procedures to facilitate fraud-related or other suspicious activity, compared with only 40% that had established whistle-blowing hotlines in the previous year.

It is not all just about more measures to protect the employee at the inconvenience of employers. There can be valuable benefits to an employer of an early wake up call before a situation worsens and the chance to defuse problems.

The protection of the whistle-blowing legislation is not confined to problems on a grand scale. Oppressive behaviour by members of an organization leading to stress and depression may well amount to breach of legal obligations and health and safety regulations that justify genuine complaints to the right people. It may be mutually beneficial if complainants have an opportunity to let off steam within the organization initially.

For those who have nobody to talk to, or whose grievances have not been resolved, Section 5.3 of the new ET1 will be a further option. Whilst many tribunal claims run out of steam before a hearing, often for financial and other tactical reasons, statutory regulators once interested in a case are arguably less likely to be as easily repelled.