The English Court of Appeal’s decision this week in Small v Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust acts as a useful reminder that companies should deal with whistleblowers very carefully – or otherwise risk substantial damages claims.
In this case, Mr Small, a project manager in the estate management department of the Trust had made disclosures relating to the risk of asbestos in a property owned by the Trust. Mr Small had been engaged by the Trust on a temporary basis but had understood that he would soon be offered full-time employment with the Trust. Instead, Mr Small’s engagement was terminated and Mr Small successfully claimed in the Employment Tribunal that his dismissal had been unlawful.
The Employment Tribunal awarded Mr Small compensation on the basis that he would have provided services to the Trust for another 16 months. However, Mr Small gave evidence that, despite applying for 600 new jobs, he had struggled to find new employment as he had been dismissed by the Trust and did not have a reference from them.
The Court of Appeal found that as the Employment Tribunal had accepted the circumstances of Mr Small’s dismissal to be “career-ending”, they should have considered whether to award Mr Small compensation for long term loss of earnings (even though Mr Small had not raised this specific argument). The case was remitted to the Employment Tribunal for a hearing on this point.
This case is a timely reminder that under UK law whistleblowers can receive uncapped damages, which could extend to career long loss. As such, care should be taken to properly deal with and investigate whistleblowers’ complaints and it is important that legal advice is taken before terminating an employee or worker who has previously blown the whistle.
For further information on how multinational companies can benefit from strong whistleblowing policies and practices, click here.