If an employee makes a protected disclosure they cannot suffer any detriment as a result. A protected disclosure is going to the appropriate body to express concerns, when the concerns relate to a matter that is in the public interest.
The employee was a Finance Officer at a school. He was concerned that the Principal of the College had said (in response to a request for a reference) that he would support the re-employment of a teacher who had previously been dismissed for having an inappropriate relationship with a pupil. He was also concerned that the Principal had a lax attitude to alcohol consumption during college hours, because he thought that this could result in potential problems with safeguarding students. After he had raised the concerns he was ostracised at work and was eventually dismissed on the grounds that his working relationships had irretrievably broken down (Lane v Weymouth College 2018 ET/1400535/2017).
This was unfair dismissal because the reasons for the dismissal were that he had made a protected disclosure. The compensation was decided out of court by the parties.
Tips when Managing a Protected Disclosure
Always respond carefully when an employee makes a statement or a claim which could be a protected disclosure. To be a protected disclosure it must:
- Be in the public interest. The courts have interpreted this quite widely, and it could be something that just affects several employees in your organisation. However, it would not be in the ‘public interest’ if it was a contractual issue which just affected one person.
- Be something that is revealed to an appropriate body. For example, if the employee had a concern relating to health and safety they should, in the first instance, raise the matter with you. If there is a good reason why they could not raise the issue with you or if they raise it and you take no action, then they should go to an appropriate body. With health and safety issues this would be the Health and Safety Executive. If they went straight to the media to report what had happened they would not have the protection given to a protected disclosure.
You must note the following:
- An employee must not suffer any detriment for making a protected disclosure. So, this means that they must not be dismissed and must not be treated negatively in any way.
- A dismissal for making a protected disclosure is ‘automatically unfair’ and no qualifying length of service is required to bring a claim.