Beatt v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust case [2017] EWCA Civ 401

The Court of Appeal has confirmed an employee may be unfairly dismissed for blowing the whistle, even when an employer does not believe the disclosure relied upon is a "protected disclosure".

A qualifying disclosure for the purposes of the whistleblowing legislation arises when a worker makes a disclosure of information relating to one of six types of relevant failures, and the worker must reasonably believe that the information tends to show one of the relevant failures and is in the public interest.

Mr Beatt worked as a cardiologist at Croydon University Hospital NHS Trust ("the Trust") for seven years. Following a patient's death during an operation, he raised concerns regarding the suspension of a particular nurse on the day of the operation and, more generally, the absence of sufficient specialist nurses at the Trust.

The Trust argued that the allegations were "entirely without merit and … gratuitous in nature" and motivated by Mr Beatt's desire that the suspended nurse be reinstated. Mr Beatt was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct; he then brought a claim of automatic unfair dismissal on the grounds of making a protected disclosure.

The ET upheld the claim, finding that there was a link between the protected disclosures Mr Beatt relied upon and some of the allegations of misconduct made against him by the Trust.

The Trust appealed arguing that at the time of dismissal it did not believe Mr Beatt had made a protected disclosure and so he could not have been dismissed for that reason.

Finding in favour of Mr Beatt, the Court of Appeal required two key questions to be answered when considering claims of this kind: (i) whether the disclosure is the principal reason for dismissal, and (ii) if so, whether the disclosure amounted to a "protected disclosure" within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (Act).

  1. The Court concluded that Mr Beatt's disclosure did amount to a protected disclosure under the Act and that his dismissal was principally motivated by that disclosure. Accordingly, he succeeded; the Trust's view of the disclosures was irrelevant.

This case serves as a reminder of the factors which must be present (and those which are not relevant) for an employee to succeed in a whistleblowing claim. It highlights that allegations of wrongdoing raised by employees should always be taken seriously and demonstrates the pitfalls of failing to take legal advice at the appropriate time.