What someone can whistleblow about
By law, there are several issues you can whistleblow about. These are called 'qualifying disclosures'.
Qualifying disclosures include:
- a criminal offence – for example, if an employer has been trying to bribe people
- the breach of a legal obligation by an organisation – for example, if an employer has neglected their duty of care towards children in a care home
- a miscarriage of justice – for example, if a member of staff has been fired for something that turned out to be a computer error
- someone's health and safety being in danger – for example, if an employer has forced staff to serve food they know has been contaminated
- damage to the environment – for example, if an employer has been regularly polluting local rivers
You can also whistleblow about someone trying to cover up information about any of these issues.
You can make a qualifying disclosure about an issue that's happened at any time. This includes if it's likely to happen in the future. It can also be about something that takes place overseas.
You can report one or more qualifying disclosures.
When a qualifying disclosure is protected
By law, you'll be protected as a whistleblower if you can show it's reasonable for you to believe that what you disclose:
- fits into one of the categories of a qualifying disclosure
- is in the public interest
In the public interest means it has to also affect others. For example other workers, customers or the general public. A problem or grievance that is personal to only you is unlikely to count as being in the public interest.
Something is more likely to be in the public interest:
- the more serious the issue is
- if you're reporting something that was done deliberately
- if the issue involves a large, influential or well-known employer
- if there are a large number of people affected by the concerns
When you will not be protected
You will not be protected when making a qualifying disclosure if you:
- commit a criminal offence by disclosing the information – for example hacking into computer files
- breach legal professional privilege – for example if you're a legal adviser and learn about something when giving legal advice
In Scotland, legal professional privilege is sometimes called 'confidentiality as between client and professional legal adviser'.
Resolving a personal problem at work
If your concern is a personal problem only and not in the public interest, it will not be covered by whistleblowing law. In these cases you might be able to resolve the problem another way.
Whistleblowing about health and safety breaches
By law (Employment Rights Act 1996), people legally classed as employees or workers are protected if they whistleblow about health and safety.