Not Every Workplace Complaint Qualifies for Whistleblowing Protection

Workplace whistleblowers who, in the public interest, disclose what they believe to be wrongdoing are protected by the full force of the law. As an instructive tribunal ruling underlined, however, not every complaint of flawed working practices or procedures amounts to such a protected disclosure (Riley v Belmont Green Finance Ltd).

The case concerned a mortgage underwriter who had been assigned to work on a temporary placement with a mortgage lender. He was not formally employed by the lender but was nevertheless entitled to the protections afforded to 'workers' by the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA). Following a meeting with one of the lender's senior managers, his placement was, however, terminated.

He complained to an Employment Tribunal (ET) that the decision to dispense with his services, and the allegedly humiliating way in which he was removed from the lender's office, amounted to detriments which had been unlawfully imposed upon him for whistleblowing, contrary to Section 47B of the ERA.

In rejecting his claim, however, the ET found that complaints that he made during the meeting about such matters as his telephone not working, flaws in the lender's IT system and allocation of work lacked the public interest element required to qualify as protected disclosures.

He said that he had also complained at the meeting about inexperienced staff being actively involved in reviewing cases without supervision and lending practices which he believed were in breach of regulatory requirements. However, the ET preferred the manager's evidence in that respect and found that no such complaints were made.

In dismissing the man's challenge to the ET's ruling, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that the ET had applied the wrong legal test when finding that the termination of his placement was in part motivated by his attitude and behaviour during the meeting. That error of law, however, had made no difference to the outcome of his case. There was nothing perverse in the ET's conclusion on the evidence that he had not made protected disclosures and was thus not entitled to whistleblowing protection.