Today’s Queen’s Speech sees the UK Government commit through an Employment Bill to: ‘Protect and enhance workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU, making Britain the best place in the world to work’.
Details on what this will mean in practice are in short supply, and that includes what the future holds for reform to whistleblowing rights. Butf or the Government to realise the commitment of ‘making Britain the best place in the world to work ’ reforming the legal protection for whistleblowers is essential.
Whistleblowing protection in the UK stands at cross-roads.
Lauded as the gold standard of protection laws, much has changed since the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) was introduced in 1998. New laws in Ireland, Australia and now the recently passed EU Directive highlight how whistleblowing rights in the UK are starting to fall behind internationally. The world of work, including the needs of whistleblowers, has moved on since 1998 and PIDA has not kept pace.
A failure to reform PIDA will impact on individual whistleblowers in the workplace, and their ability to seek compensation if they are victimised, dismissed or forced out of their job. Inadequate legal protection is a problem for us all – and may deter future whistleblowing disclosures.
The Queen’s Speech makes one concrete commitment: the creation on a Single Enforcement Body which is a new regulator tasked with protecting workers’ employment rights and ensuring that exploitation of workers is deterred.
We welcome this proposal.
Earlier in the year we contributed to the consultation on creating this body, pointing out that like all regulators, the Single Enforcement Body will need to rely on the information provided by whistleblowers. With this in mind we argued the body should be prescribed under PIDA as a regulator bolstering the legal protection for whistleblowers when they raise concerns with this body.
For the Government to ensure UK whistleblowing rights keeps pace with developments internationally, PIDA will need to be reformed in these key areas:
- Extending the scope of the law to include all those who raise concerns in a work-related context. This would allow volunteers, those in appointed positions and others to rely on legal protections if they are victimized for raising concerns.
- Increasing the range of disclosures which will qualify for protection to include gross waste or mismanagement of public funds and breaches of the employer’s policies and behaviour which can adversely affect the employer’s reputation or financial stability.
- Setting whistleblowing standards for employers to follow. Currently, outside of health and financial services, few employers face any requirements to have policies and procedures in place. Protect would like to see the introduction of specific mandatory arrangements to ensure that employers are dealing with whistleblowing concerns effectively, and a positive duty on employers to prevent victimisation.
- Providing protection to individuals who raise concerns with their trade unions representatives.
- Setting standards for prescribed persons (BEIS recognised regulators) to promote a consistency of approach in handling whistleblowing concerns across Britain’s range of industries.
- Increased clarity around settlement agreements and gagging clauses.
- Providing legal protection to those who are mistakenly identified as a whistleblower, or who may be considering a future disclosure.
- The introduction of an Independent Whistleblowing Commissioner, to investigate where concerns have been mishandled, set standards for employers and prescribed persons, improve public awareness and impose fines on employers or regulators for breaches of standards.
- Increasing the time limit individuals have to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal.
- Introducing legal aid for claimants in whistleblowing cases.
By Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons