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Whistle-blowing: Is a failure to pay a bonus of public interest?
In June 2013 the protection for whistle-blowers was changed so that the disclosure had to be in the “public interest”. The change in law was made to avoid the situation where an employee could claim to be a whistle-blower even though their only complaint was a breach of their own contract of employment. However, a recent case has shown that the test for being in the public interest will not be difficult to meet.

In a recent case a manager raised allegations with two of his senior managers that he believed the Directors of the company had deliberately manipulated office accounts to reduce bonus and commission payments. This had led to him receiving a much lower bonus than he had expected. It would also have the same impact on around 100 other managers in the company. When sometime later he was dismissed he considered that this was because he had made these complaints. He brought claims for unfair dismissal on the grounds that his complaints amounted to protected disclosures. The employer disputed this on the grounds there was no public interest issue.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that in this case that the question that had to be addressed under the revised whistle-blowing legislation was not whether a disclosure was in the public interest, but rather whether the individual making the disclosure had a reasonable belief that the disclosure was made in the public interest. The Tribunal came to the conclusion that the employee in question had this belief.

This case highlights that the public interest test will not be difficult to meet. It can be satisfied even where the basis of the public interest disclosure is wrong and/or there was no public interest in the disclosure, provided that the worker’s belief that the disclosure was made in the public interest was objectively reasonable.
Posted on 19 Nov 2016

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