After many months of enduring bullying and witnessing ‘wrongdoing’ in my workplace, I began making ‘protected disclosures’ about my concerns to my employer about what was happening, with the belief that my concerns would be taken seriously and that action would be taken against the bullies to protect me and the business.
However, without my knowledge, I was being labelled a troublemaker by my immediate manager (the wrongdoer), HR and the senior leadership with a plan to ‘manage’ me out of my job. This was verified in a Data Subject Access Request (DSAR) after my employment ended.
I was bullied with no intervention, and my grievance submission was ignored. There was a ‘secret’ investigation conducted against me to document my supposed misconduct, with subsequent dismissal – all of which are tactics sometimes used against an employee should it go to an employment tribunal. This is known as institutional betrayal which can lead to PTSD.
The legal position
Whistleblowers play a crucial role in exposing fraud, corruption, safety violations, and other unethical or illegal activities that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Whistleblowing in the public interest in the UK refers to the act of reporting certain types of wrongdoing or malpractice in the workplace to an appropriate authority or external entity. There are strict rules of who this can be disclosed to and can affect an employment tribunal claim if incorrectly disclosed.
The legal framework for protecting whistleblowers in the UK is provided by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA). The legislation was designed to promote openness and transparency in both the public and private sectors. To be covered by the act, disclosures must be considered ‘protected acts’. This means that the information being reported must relate to a specific set of issues, such as a criminal offence, the breach of a legal obligation, a miscarriage of justice, a danger to the health and safety of any individual, damage to the environment, or deliberate concealment of information relating to these issues.
Whistleblowers are encouraged to report their concerns internally within the organisation according to policy. However, if they believe that the issue is not being adequately addressed or that their concerns might be ignored, they can escalate the concerns to external authorities, such as regulatory bodies, law enforcement, or the media.
Protection of whistleblowers?
Whistleblowers should be protected from unfair treatment or victimisation as a result of making protected disclosures. If they face dismissal, demotion, harassment, or any other detrimental treatment due to their whistleblowing, they may have legal recourse against their employer.
As in my own case, some employers go to extreme lengths using tactics in an attempt to cover up wrongdoing, which can ultimately end up blackening the character of the whistleblower, to take the onus away from their disclosures. Many whistleblowers have endured the same treatment by their employers to silence them and many lose their careers along the way.
The NHS shock
Shockingly, many whistleblowers are from the NHS, with victims stating that they were reported to their regulator with false allegations, and investigations were conducted in retaliation. Many suffered the trauma of going through Fitness To Practice (FTP) hearings to ascertain whether they were fit to work and were suspended or struck off. The latest indication of NHS bosses’ failure to deal with problems is the Lucy Letby case.
Peter Duffy MBE, a consultant urologist at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay came close to suicide, left his NHS career and wrote two books on his experience. The case against him was dismissed.
Martyn Pitman, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, became a whistleblower about levels of staffing and spoke of “a culture of fear in the NHS”. He was sacked.
Another NHS employee, Dr Chris Day, a junior doctor, also suffered the consequences of being a whistleblower when he raised concerns on staff shortages in an intensive care unit. Senior staff made a series of false allegations to discredit him, and his career path to become a consultant was cut off. In the ensuing court case, he won his case in the Court of Appeal.
Dr Usha Prasad, a cardiologist at Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust and Dr Raj Mattu also suffered injustice as whistleblowers. Dr Prasad was asked to undergo an FTP hearing and was dismissed. Dr Mattu, another esteemed cardiologist at Walsgrave hospital in Coventry, was sacked but won his case at an employment tribunal and awarded £1.22mn in damages.
And it’s not just the NHS
Equality and diversity consultant Alison McDermott had her contract terminated at Sellafield after reporting the failure of the HR department to address her concerns about bullying, harassment and a toxic culture. This evidence was dismissed, and after she refused a financial offer with a gagging order, she took her case to an employment tribunal.
She lost her case, and the BBC reports in April 2023 that “an appeal judge found there had been errors in her tribunal but not enough to warrant a new one.” The judge, however, found there were problems with the handling of her case, and vindicated her as a whistleblower. She has not worked since, and is still fighting.
Retired police officer Pete Jackson also fell foul of institutional betrayal after blowing the whistle on cronyism, police procedures and tactics in certain cases. His claims that he was sidelined and passed over for promotion are still being heard at an employment tribunal, ten years since his litigation began against Greater Manchester Police.
Stephanie C Davies, a senior coroner’s officer, first raised concerns about cases with Chester police, and two years later, the attacks began. She was suspended in 2021 and is still waiting for the conclusion of her case, expected in October 2023.
It is quite clear from these cases that the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1998 is not fit for purpose and an urgent reform is needed to protect whistleblowers.
The third part of this article addresses the topic of Employment Tribunals.