'Blowing the whistle' was a relatively unknown expression when the Public Interest Disclosure Act (Pida) became law in 1998, providing workers with overdue protection against dismissal or victimisation for raising concerns about illegal or unsafe practices. But since compensation is uncapped, employees are sometimes tempted to use the law tactically to get around the £70,000 to £80,000 limit on unfair dismissal compensation. One of the grounds for disclosure is that the employer is breaching a 'legal obligation', which the courts have interpreted to cover individuals complaining about breach of their own employment contract. Hardly the type of 'public interest' the legislation was ostensibly designed to protect. Yet in other ways, the law is problematic for claimants. For example, while a factual disclosure about alleged malpractice is protected, the expression of an 'opinion' or 'bare allegation' is not - a tough call for an employee to make without legal advice. We're not blowing the whistle on Pida as being unfit for purpose, but fine-tuning is needed so it properly protects deserving workers while excluding those dressing up private agendas.
- Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors, email: firstname.lastname@example.org