Whistleblowing has been well and truly in the news this month and on 26 February the government announced a strengthening of the protection provided to those who make disclosures. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is to be amended to include protection for employees who suffer bullying or harassment from co-workers. At present the only protection available is in respect of action taken by the employer.
The protection will make employers vicariously liable for the acts of co-workers, in much the same way as the protection which already exists in the event of discrimination. The employer will therefore be held liable for the actions of co-workers unless it is able to show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the detrimental treatment of the whistleblower by the co-worker or workers.
Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson (who, as a result of recent news concerning Lord Rennard no doubt has this very much in mind at the moment!) said:
The protection offered by whistleblowing legislation is strong but there are always ways to improve it. This amendment takes into account recent events and will place whistleblowers, who are making a difficult decision, in a better position. They will now have a specific employment protection in place and be able to have the full force of a tribunal behind them if they suffer any detriment, bullying or harassment from a co-worker.
The change will not impact on good employers who see that it as their responsibility to make sure their staff have a good working environment.
Examples of whistleblowing issues in the news this month include:
- – A health services manager who says that he was gagged by the NHS and prevented from speaking out about patient safety concerns (BBC News; Mail Online)
- – A gas market whistleblower who was sacked after accusing utility companies of price fixing (Guardian Online)
- – A BBC whistleblower who says that he was threatened with prison for contacting the media (Guardian Online)
- – A Lord Rennard accuser dismissed with gagging clause after telling her employer she was pregnant (Daily Telegraph)
- – A dinner lady who was dismissed after reporting playground bullying (Daily Telegraph)
- – A doctor who reported that patients were dying needlessly in a hospital with the highest rate of avoidable deaths in the UK (Mail Online)