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When is a Whistleblowing Disclosure ‘in the Public Interest’?

In order to qualify as a workplace whistleblower, protected by law, you have to show that the disclosures you make are ‘in the public interest’. The meaning of that phrase has been a constant source of debate; however, a tribunal decision has emphasised that a liberal approach should be taken to its interpretation.

A driver who worked for a large trucking company had made a number of complaints against his employer which he asserted were protected disclosures within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996. One of them took the form of a letter in which he and two colleagues claimed that the distribution of overtime between drivers was being dealt with unfairly and in breach of contract.

Following a preliminary hearing, an Employment Tribunal (ET) struck out that part of his claim on the basis that the disclosure concerned only the particular terms of his and the other two complainants’ contracts and could thus not be viewed as having been made in the wider public interest.

In challenging that decision, the driver’s legal team pointed out that the disclosure was relevant to the working conditions of not only the complainants but also to those of a number of other drivers who worked at the same depot and whose incomes were said to have been affected by the unfair treatment.

In upholding the driver’s appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that the ET’s approach to the public interest issue had been too narrow. It could not be said that the driver’s claim in respect of the particular disclosure had no reasonable prospect of success. The claim in question was remitted to the same ET for determination along with the driver’s other claims.