Watch Out For Whistleblowing! Beware Vicarious Liability20th Oct 2015
Employers are at risk because they do not understand how far reaching the rules on whistleblowing have now become, warn Coles Miller Solicitors.
Not only is an employer at risk from whistleblowing disclosures that relate to their own company…
They could also be liable if they dismiss an employee or treat them detrimentally because that worker blew the whistle about activities at a previous firm.
There are other pitfalls as well: “Employers could still be liable for damages even if they did not realise the employee was blowing the whistle,” warned Coles Miller employment law Partner Neil Andrews.
He added: “Damages in whistleblowing claims are uncapped - meaning there is no statutory limit to the amount that can be awarded.”
Mr Andrews was addressing human resources professionals at the quarterly TeamJobs Coles Miller HR Forum at the Salterns Harbourside Hotel, Poole.
He warned: “HR professionals could be personally drawn into a claim if they are overzealous. They could end up having to defend themselves as well as their boss.”
Unlike unfair dismissal, there is no qualifying period for whistleblowing claims. Employees gain protection from the first day of employment.
A whistleblower will be given protection if their disclosure meets certain criteria such as public interest. Also, the disclosure must be in relation to a perceived:
- criminal offence
- breach of legal obligation
- miscarriage of justice
- danger to the health and safety of any individual
- damage to the environment
- deliberate concealment of any of the above.
It is important to note that disclosures about bullying and harassment are not protected per se. Bullying would have to fall within the qualifying criteria, such as danger to a person’s health and safety.
The whistleblowing must also be a protected disclosure, meaning that it must be made to the correct person.
In most circumstances employees are obliged to make the disclosure to the employer. However, there are exceptions whereby a disclosure can be made to others including regulators, the police or the media.
For expert legal advice on whistleblowing and other employment law matters, contact Coles Miller Partner Neil Andrews, 01202 673011.