Whistleblowing – Defining Public Interest

In the recent case of Chesterton Global Ltd v Nurmohamed, the employment tribunal attached a much needed explanation to the term ‘public interest’ and helped clarify when an employee can be protected under the defence of ‘whistleblowing’.

In the UK, ‘whistleblowing’ occurs when an employee makes a qualifying disclosure in the public interest, highlighting one of the six specified types of wrongdoing set out under Section 43B(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. It is a vital aspect of employee rights and provides protection to whistleblowers whose employer dismisses them, or subjects them to detriment, on the ground that a qualifying disclosure has been made in the public interest.

The case in question focused on defining what is meant by the ‘public interest’. During the proceedings, the employment tribunal heard how the employee had made disclosures to his area director, in which he complained about the manipulation of the company’s accounts, which he believed adversely affected his commission income. This, in turn, affected not just the employee but also around 100 other senior managers. Chesterton Global Ltd, the employer, argued that such a disclosure had not been made in the public interest, as the interest of 100 senior managers did not constitute a sufficient section of the public.

In coming to their decision, the employment tribunal held that whilst the employee’s disclosure was principally made for his own personal gain, the disclosure concerning the manipulation of accounts adversely affected the commission income of 100 senior managers and, therefore, a sufficient section of the public had been affected to satisfy the public interest test. The tribunal did however point out that the scope of ‘public interest’ is particularly narrow and excludes opportunistic individuals seeking to use the legislation for their own private purposes. For this reason, whistleblowing does not include employees relying on a breach of their own employment contract where the breach is of a personal nature and no wider public interest implications are satisfied.

For more information on whistleblowing and your employment rights, feel free to give us a call on 01536 276300. At Seatons, our team of highly trained legal professionals have a wealth of experience in employment claims and provide clear, easy to understand legal advice at low sensible fees.