Public interest element of whistleblowing

06 April 2016

Employees are protected from dismissal and from other detrimental treatment for having blown the whistle on certain types of malpractice. But for this to apply, there must have been a ‘protected disclosure’. And a key aspect of that is the whistleblower’s reasonable belief that disclosure was in the public interest.

Morgan v Royal Mencap Society

Employees are protected from dismissal and from other detrimental treatment for having blown the whistle on certain types of malpractice. But for this to apply, there must have been a ‘protected disclosure’. And a key aspect of that is the whistleblower’s reasonable belief that disclosure was in the public interest.

What does and doesn’t count as being in the public interest is a bit of a hot topic at the moment. The Court of Appeal is looking at this in a few months in a case involving the estate agents, Chestertons. But in the meantime, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in Morgan v Royal Mencap Society has considered whether or not an employee’s complaint about her cramped working conditions had enough of a public interest element to qualify as a protected disclosure.

It’s possible, said the EAT, even if the complainant is the principal person affected. It reversed the earlier tribunal’s decision that had struck out Ms Morgan’s claim at a preliminary stage (based on legal arguments alone). It’s an arguable point, said the EAT, which should be decided after hearing evidence.

What sort of evidence? Ms Morgan had argued that others could be affected by the same or similar cramped working conditions, so evidence about how other workstations were organised, how other employees might or might not be affected by cramped conditions, and what Ms Morgan’s belief was about all of that would be relevant to the public interest aspect of the case.


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