New Rules For Whistleblowers

public_interest07:26 Tuesday 25th June 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: If you’re thinking of exposing wrongdoing in your workplace, then you’ll get more protection under changes to the law being brought in today. The new rules mean whisteblowing must be in the public interest, and employees will have more rights protecting them from harrassment at work that may occur as a result. Sean Farrington is from our business unit. Morning Sean.
PAUL STAINTON: Now we’ve had quite a few incidences of whistleblowing lately. I think the latest one involves a public toilet in Billericay. But it’s a big thing to put your head above the parapet, isn’t it?
SEAN FARRINGTON: It is. And these rules being brought in today, they should encourage you to do that, and feel that you shouldn’t be maybe isolated at work if you do it. And actually, part of it is encouraging businesses to encourage people to come forward within their business, tell the business first, make it so they don’t need to go to the regulator and make it feel like they’re grassing the business up. It could be positive for the business if they’re actually collecting this information from their own staff.
PAUL STAINTON: What protection do people have at the moment from harrassment? It’s alright whistleblowing and then at the moment what happens?
SEAN FARRINGTON: Well I guess the higher profile protection that we hear a lot about is if you blow the whistle at your company, but then you don’t get jobs that you’ve applied for, or you may even be sacked and wrongfully dismissed. And that’s the kind of cases we hear a lot of. The big change that’s happening today is that if you blow the whistle on your company, and some of your colleagues start treating you worse than they were before, and you’re maybe shunned in the office, it’s not necessarily people more senior than you, you actually are now within the law allowed to sue these employees, and you may be able to win compensation from them. But on top of that, it adds a bit more of a liability to the company, because the company will also be liable for how your colleagues treat you. So the company needs to make sure that everybody’s trained up and very educated on the fact that if you’ve got a whistleblower in the office, nothing should change.
PAUL STAINTON: And what protection is there though for businesses, from people who have just got an axe to grind, and are doing this willy nilly?
SEAN FARRINGTON: Well that is a tricky one, because actually another rule that’s coming in today is that motivation is actually irrelevant. So if it’s in the public interest, and this is something that people should know about, the courts will say, that’s fine. If something is followed up in bad faith, if somebody just wants to get their own back on a company, then actually that won’t stop the thing going through, if it’s proved to be true, if you get my reasoning. So it could be that you have it in for your company, you know they’re doing some wrongdoing, so you decide to take them through the courts. And just because it’s in bad faith won’t mean the coourts won’t find in favour of yourself against the company. What they will do, they may reduce the compensation you get, but it does mean that it opens up companies a little bit more to people trying to get back at a company. But then if wrongdoing is being done, wrongdoing is being done.
PAUL STAINTON: And this story today about the councillor, former councillor in Billericay, whistleblowing on his local authority who were funding a public toilet which cost £5.79 every time someone used it, he’ll be protected now.
SEAN FARRINGTON: Well I guess the courts will first decide is that in the public interest. And so if that’s the charge .. is that the cost of the toilet every time they ..
PAUL STAINTON: Well he’s worked it out. yes. £20,000 a year for the amount of people that use it is costing £5.79 every time someone has a tinkle.
SEAN FARRINGTON: The idea is he’ll be protected, whether or not he’s right or wrong. He’s decided to bring something forward, and so that shouldn’t mean that affects your role in the workplace at all. And I guess that’s the key thing, isn’t it? It’s for the courts to decide who’s right or wrong in that situation. Is it in the public interest? Is that wrongdoing actually? You’re entering a minefield there about pricing, aren’t you? If pricing is wrongdoing then I guess it’s up to a company however much they spend on a certain area. But that may come out. If it’s malpractice in management, and they’re not using money correctly, then he may well have a case. But the point is his colleagues shouldn’t treat him any differently when he goes into work tomorrow. If he applies for a job next week, he should have as much chance of getting it as he had beforehand. And that’s the whole idea, to make people feel comfortable in doing that.
PAUL STAINTON: Sean, thank you. Sean Farrington from our business unit.