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Whistleblowing in the public interest

Posted on 20th May 2015
Case law

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has considered for the first time the meaning of 'in the public interest' in relation to public interest disclosures.

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Julie Temple Julie
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this decision confirms that workers have an additional hurdle to get over to establish that they have made a 'protected disclosure', but the hurdle is fixed quite low

Chesterton Global Limited v Numohamed 2015 EAT

The facts

Mr N was a director of Chesterton's London office.  He spoke on three occasions to senior individuals of Chesterton.  He alleged that the costs and liabilities were being misrepresented in Chesterton's accounts and this negatively affected the commission paid to himself and 100 other managers.

The issue considered by the EAT was whether these discussions were protected disclosures.  Since June 2013 a worker must show that they reasonably believed the disclosure was 'in the public interest'.  The employment tribunal concluded that it was.

The decision

The EAT agreed:

  • The EAT confirmed that the relevant question was whether the worker, in this case Mr N, reasonably believed the disclosure was 'in the public interest'.
  • It also said that this question would still be satisified even if the disclosure made proved to be wrong and/or there was 'no public interest in the disclosure' provided that the worker's belief that it was in the public interest 'was objectively reasonable'.  
  • The EAT accepted that Mr N, when he made the disclosures, had in mind that 100 other managers (in addition to himself) were affected.
  • The EAT decdided that it did not matter that Mr N was most concerned about himself or that Mr N was relying on a potential breach of his own contract of employment.  
  • It also did not matter that Chesteron was a private limited company and not a publicly listed company.
As a consequence Mr N was found to have made a protected disclosure and to have been automatically unfairly dismissed and subjected to detriments on the basis that he had.

Comment

This is the first EAT case to consider the meaning of 'in the public interest'.  

It is fair to say that this decision confirms that workers now have an additional hurdle to get over to establish that they have made a 'protected disclosure', but the hurdle under this decision is fixed quite low.  It seems, providing the subject matter of the disclosure potentially affects more than just the worker and they reasonably believe that it does the 'in the public interest' test will be satisfied.  

If you are unsure if a worker has made a protected disclosure or you need advice and guidance where a worker has made a disclosure get in touch with us now to make sure you take the best next steps for your organisation.

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