Three real examples of workplace whistleblowing and what happened next

If you think you’ve been fired because you raised valid concerns about your company, you need to prove this would count as whistleblowing, and that it was the reason you were dismissed. To help you understand the details of whistleblowing, we look at three different examples brought to the Employment Tribunal.

Whistleblowing - officially known as ‘making a protected disclosure’ - is when you raise a public interest concern about wrongdoing that you have seen or experienced at work.

There are 6 specific categories to what wrongdoing is covered under whistleblowing protections:

  1. Criminal offence
  2. Failure to comply with a legal obligation
  3. Miscarriage of justice
  4. Health and safety risks
  5. Environmental damage
  6. Covering up any of the above

If you raise a concern with your employer for any of these reasons, the law provides you with two very important protections:

  • If you are dismissed because of raising this concern, this counts as an automatically unfair dismissal.
  • Your employer cannot treat you unfairly because of raising this concern.

However, if you believe you were dismissed for whistleblowing, you have to prove that:

  1. You disclosed specific information that you reasonably believed was in the public interest to disclose.
  2. You reasonably believed that your concern showed that your employer has been committing, is committing, or is likely to commit one of the six offences listed above.
  3. Your dismissal was because of the whistleblowing.

Example 1: a health and safety related concern that didn’t qualify as whistleblowing

At an Employment Tribunal case in September 2021, a Transport Manager at a freight company, Angus, claimed that he had made 2 whistleblowing disclosures the year before, and that he’d been dismissed because of them.

The first concern he raised was related to safety standards. He had told his boss in an email that he was worried about some of the lorries which the company used, because if they were fully loaded they could be overweight and did not comply with safety standards.

The Tribunal didn’t agree this counted as whistleblowing because Angus had no reason to believe that the vehicles would actually be used until the issues were resolved. The lorries had in fact been taken off the road.

What you can learn from this

If you are arguing that you have made a whistleblowing disclosure, you need to consider all three of the tests listed above as to what counts as whistleblowing. Angus’s argument failed on part two -- he couldn’t show that he reasonably believed that his employer was likely to commit a wrongdoing, because the vans were currently off the road and his employer still had the opportunity to resolve the issue. The Employment Tribunal decided that this concern was more of a “what if” scenario.  Read Angus’s full Tribunal judgement.

Example 2: a health and safety related concern that qualified as whistleblowing

In the same case, Angus’s other disclosure did qualify as whistleblowing. This disclosure was made in a telephone conversation between him and his boss. Angus was furloughed at the time, and was worried about the company operating in violation of DVSA requirements in his absence and in the absence of the other Transport Managers.

Although his boss told Angus that the company was operating lawfully, the Tribunal considered that the disclosure qualified as whistleblowing. This was because unlike his first disclosure, Angus reasonably believed when he spoke to his boss that his employer was in breach of a legal obligation.

However, even though Angus established that there was a whistleblowing disclosure, he wasn’t able to show that this was the reason for his dismissal. Although in such cases the burden of proof is on the employer to show the dismissal was fair, they were able to do this, showing that Angus was made redundant because of downsizing due to Covid, which had been planned before his disclosure was made.

What you can learn from this

Even if you successfully show that your concern qualified as whistleblowing, your employer can still argue that there was another legitimate reason for dismissing you. It’s important to keep notes of the concerns that you raised and any meetings or conversations that you had around the time of your dismissal so you can show these to the Tribunal. Read Angus’s full Tribunal judgement.

Example 3: a whistleblowing case where someone was employed for less than two years

In a whistleblowing case brought to the Employment Tribunal in Scotland, an Imam working for an Edinburgh mosque successfully claimed automatic unfair dismissal because of whistleblowing, even though he was employed for less than two years.

The Imam made several complaints, including financial impropriety by senior members of the mosque. This included large payments being made from petty cash, which went against charity regulations. He had also been vocally critical of the Director of the mosque, and had challenged the Director when he had said that the previous administration had left a £22,000 deficit.

He was later dismissed after a workplace disciplinary.

The Tribunal decided that the Imam’s concerns qualified as whistleblowing, and that raising these concerns was one of the reasons why he was dismissed. Their view was that the Imam’s persistence in raising matters both with the management of the mosque and with the Scottish charities regulator had led directly to the process which resulted in his dismissal.

What you can learn from this

This case is interesting for two reasons:

  1. There is a common perception that employees have no unfair dismissal rights before working two years at their employer. This is incorrect -- your rights to “automatic unfair dismissal” starts as soon as employment starts. The Imam won around £30,000 in compensation, even though he had worked there for less than 2 years.
  2. Unlike Angus in the second example, the Imam successfully showed that he was dismissed because of raising his concerns.  

Read the Imam’s full judgement here.  

How to progress your whistleblowing claim

As these cases show, there are very specific legal tests for whether something counts as a whistleblowing dismissal, and each case turns on its own facts. So, if you think that you might have a whistleblowing case, it pays to do your research first.

Our platform can help you pull your research together, gather your evidence, start a claim in the Tribunal, and keep track of your case. If you need to consult a lawyer, you’ll save a lot of time - and money - by having all this in one place.  Sign up for your free account.

If you want to find out more about whistleblowing, the charity Protect has a lot of very useful information.