In the case of Okwu v Rise Community Action, the EAT found that, in relation to whether a protected disclosure was in the public interest or not, it only requred the employee to have reasonable belief that it was.
The Claimant was employed by, Rise, a charity providing support for individuals affected by domestic violence. After issues were raised about the capability of the Claimant, her probation period was extended by three months. The Claimant wrote to the Respondent raising concerns that Rise were breaching Data Protection legislation. The Claimant's employment was later terminated and she brought an unfair dismissal claim against the Respondent on the basis that she had been dismissed for whistleblowing. The Employment Tribunal found that matters she raised concerned only her own position and were not in the public interest.
The Claimant appealed the decision and the EAT found that the Tribunal had failed to consider whether she had reasonable belief that her disclosure was in the public interest. The EAT said that it was hard to see how it could not have been, given the sensitive nature of the information involved. The appeal was allowed on the grounds of this and remitted to the Tribunal for reconsideration.
This case highlights the importance for employers to consider carefully whether a complaint made by an employee could amount to a protected disclosure, taking into account the mindset of the employee making the disclosure.
Originally published September 4, 2019
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