UK: Protecting Whistleblowers In The UK – Is The Law Sufficient?

With instances of whistleblowing hitting the press on an ever-increasing basis, does UK law do enough to protect employees who blow the whistle on their employer's wrongdoing? According to a new report published by the international NGO, Blueprint for Free Speech, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation (the "Report"), the answer to this question is a resounding no. The Report identifies a number of deficiencies in the current statutory regime and argues that the UK falls short of international standards. It goes on to propose 10 urgent reforms and 10 further recommendations.


Whistleblowing occurs when a worker reports or exposes (in most instances to his/her employer, but potentially also to the appropriate regulator or even the press) certain wrongdoing or malpractice in the workplace. English law provides certain protection against victimisation and dismissal related to whistleblowing. Since June 2013, workers – to be protected – must have a reasonable belief that the disclosure is "in the public interest".

Deficiencies in the UK Framework

The Report suggests that a whistleblower protection framework should provide adequate channels of disclosure, protect against employer retaliation, and provide remedies for any such retaliation.

The Report makes a number of criticisms of the current statutory regime and concludes that there are areas where it does not meet international standards. These range from the extreme (the Report considers there is a failure to have measures in place specifically to protect whistleblowers and their families from physical harm resulting from disclosure), to the procedural (the Report considers enforcement through Employment Tribunals is inaccessible to non-lawyers; Employment Tribunals are insufficiently expert in the specific nuances of whistleblowing cases; and damages awarded do not reflect the public interest in the disclosures that have been made). However, and perhaps of most relevance to employers, the Report also argues that the UK regime does not protect a sufficiently broad range of "workers", and provides no mechanism to prevent retaliation before it occurs.

Urgent Reforms

The Report recommends 10 reforms which it considers are urgently required:

  1. Rapid response system – the Report considers that under the current legislation, whistleblowers can only take action after retaliation has occurred, with interim relief being inadequate and difficult to obtain in practice (due in part to the high costs involved of bringing proceedings in the High Court). The Report advocates establishing a system to allow whistleblowers to obtain a preemptive "protection order" within 30 days and without the payment of fees.
  2. Designated government or independent agency – should be set up to protect employees from retaliation and should serve as an ombudsman to advise and support whistleblowers.
  3. Retaliation penalties – civil, and potentially criminal, penalties should be imposed on individuals who retaliate against whistleblowers. Employment Tribunals should be encouraged to award aggravated damages in the most serious cases.
  4. Specific Employment Tribunal standards and formulae for whistleblower cases – generic unfair dismissal principles are used to decide whistleblower cases, leading, the Report concludes, to inadequate levels of compensation. Whistleblowers should be guaranteed ample compensation for all past and future losses, reputation and career damage, and injury to feelings.
  5. Whistleblower disclosure channels and protection systems – should be established in government agencies and medium-to-large companies, which allow employees to report anonymously and with systems in place to protect against retaliation.
  6. Obligation to investigate – regulators responsible for investigating disclosures should be obliged to investigate valid reports and provide reasons where it is believed that an investigation is not warranted.
  7. Intelligence and military staff – currently not covered by the legislation, a system should be put in place to allow such staff to report misconduct through designated channels and without fear of retaliation.
  8. Burden of proof and 'reason shopping' – currently, to avoid a finding of unfair dismissal, employers have to show that the disclosure was not the principal reason for dismissal. This, the Report argues, encourages employers to engage in "reason shopping" to find alternate grounds on which to base a dismissal. Instead, the Report supports the full burden of proof being on the employer to demonstrate that the dismissal was in no way related to the disclosure.
  9. Gagging clauses – confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements that seek to ban public discussion of whistleblower disclosures should be monitored and restricted.
  10. Access to justice – Employment Tribunal fees should be significantly reduced and the hearing process simplified to avoid the need for lawyers.

As mentioned above, the report also recommends that the range of individuals protected by whistleblowing legislation is extended to include, for example, interns and volunteers, non-executive directors, job applicants, foster-carers, and people who assist whistleblowers.


The Report adds to a growing body of research critical of the UK's whistleblower protection framework, but its impact on policy remains to be seen. It also needs to be read in context of the author of the report, i.e., a charity which supports freedom of expression. Groups who support removal of red tape for employers, for example, may favour a different approach.

As Parliament will be preoccupied with Brexit for the foreseeable future, the likelihood of legislative changes being introduced as a result of the Report (or any other commentary on the topic) is low. Nonetheless, it serves as a reminder for employers to monitor their whistleblower procedures to ensure that the process for making disclosures is sufficiently clear, that employees are adequately trained on identifying and reporting wrongdoing, and that all managers involved in the process understand the steps to be taken following a disclosure being made.

In addition, and by way of best practice, employers may want to consider voluntarily implementing a number of the Report's recommendations and proposed reforms as appropriate. For example, employers may consider widening their whistleblowing policies to cover a broader range of "workers", including volunteers and interns; or (if not in place already) putting anonymous whistleblower channels and systems in place, with an obligation on a relevant individual or group to investigate any issues raised. Employers may also want to make it clear in disciplinary policies that retaliation against a whistleblower will be considered to be misconduct.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.