Whistleblowing complaints have been on the rise since the beginning of the global pandemic and the government has recently announced that they will be carrying out a review of the whistleblowing legislation to ensure that it is still fit for purpose.
Protection for whistleblowers in Northern Ireland is provided under the Public Interest Disclosure Order (NI) 1998 (“PIDO”). This legislation protects employees and workers who blow the whistle about wrong doing which they believe is taking place or has taken place. For the legislation to provide protection to an individual, they must make a “qualifying disclosure” to their employer or to another third party.
A “qualifying disclosure” which will be protected under the legislation is one which, in the reasonable belief of the individual, tends to show one or more of the following:-
- the commission of a criminal offence;
- a miscarriage of justice;
- breach of a legal obligation;
- the endangerment of the health and safety of any individual;
- environmental damage;
- deliberate concealment of information relating to any of the above.
An employee making a disclosure must believe that they are doing it in the public interest. You should note that employees have the right not to be subjected to any detriment on the ground that they have made a protected disclosure, for example the threat of disciplinary action against them, or being unfairly selected for redundancy and they can bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal if they believe they have suffered a detriment as a consequence of blowing the whistle. In addition, the dismissal of an employee will be automatically unfair, if the principal reason for that dismissal is that they made a protected disclosure. There is no length of service requirement for bringing a whistleblowing claim in the Employment Tribunal and no cap on the damages that could be awarded. Also, should the claim culminate in a full hearing, then it will be held in a public setting, where the evidence heard as part of the proceedings could of course cause damage to the reputation of the business.
Therefore, you should investigate a complaint as soon as possible, in accordance with your whistleblowing policy. You should ask for full evidence from the employee making the disclosure as part of your investigation – can they give examples, what happened and when? It is important that you should be objective, fair and professional about the allegations made and do not let any views held about the whistleblower impact on your investigation. The whistleblower may well have been concerned about approaching you with the complaint, so you should support them by letting them know that you are taking the matter seriously. You should keep them informed of the progress of the investigation carried out and when it is completed and also give an indication of timings for any actions or next steps that the Company will take. Subject to the outcome of the investigation, action may be required against offending employees who have been involved in the matter.
If you have any queries regarding whistleblowing or other employment matters, please contact Rachel firstname.lastname@example.org or your usual Tughans contact, who can refer you to the employment team.
While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.