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EAT ponders meaning of 'in the public interest' for the first time

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has made its first ruling on the meaning of the words 'in the public interest' in a whistle-blowing case since the provision was introduced in 2013.

The 'public interest' element of disclosures was intended to prevent claimants from using whistle-blowing provisions for personal contractual disputes.

The new law does not require a tribunal to determine exactly what is in the public interest; only whether the claimant 'reasonably believed' that the disclosure was in the public interest.

In the case in question, Chestertons v Nurmohamed, the claimant blew the whistle when he thought the company had been deliberately misstating its costs and liabilities, to the detriment of the earnings of 100 senior managers, including himself.

EAT considers what 'in the public interest' means

The EAT rejected the employer's appeal against the tribunal's decision that the claimant had reasonably believed his disclosure was in the public interest.

It said that it was irrelevant if the claimant's belief had been wrong, provided that it was objectively reasonable.

In addition, the EAT said that it did not matter that the claimant was personally affected by the breach of contract.

Analysts are urging employers to remember that personal breaches of contract might have wider public interest implications, as in this case.

The EAT also pointed out that a 'relatively small group may be sufficient to satisfy the public interest test', and that whether something is in the public interest does not turn on whether the company concerned is public or private.

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