Public interest in whistleblowing

08 January 2018

A worker will NOT be protected from detriment or dismissal under UK whistleblowing laws if the employee does NOT believe the information to be in the public interest.

A worker is protected from detriment or dismissal under UK whistleblowing laws if he or she discloses information in the reasonable belief that it is made in the public interest and that it shows certain types of wrongdoing have taken place, or will take place. In Parson v Airplus International the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held that a disclosure will not be protected if the sole reason for the disclosure is self-interest.

Ms Parsons was a legal compliance officer who made various disclosures to her employer. She was later dismissed for being a ‘cultural misfit’ and argued that her dismissal was automatically unfair for whistleblowing. The employment tribunal and EAT both held that her disclosures were purely out of self-interest, rather than having been made in the public interest. It was Ms Parson’s conduct which was the reason for her dismissal. Her employer was not concerned about the substance of her disclosures, but instead what she did afterwards. She didn’t give clear rational reasons for her beliefs. She was irrationally fixated on her own personal liability. She was unable to listen or take on board what her colleagues had to say.

It is clear from previous cases however, that a disclosure can still be legally protected if it is partly made in self-interest, as long as the employee also had a reasonable belief that he or she was making it in the public interest as well.

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