Whistleblowing law was amended in June 2013 to make protection conditional on the worker holding a reasonable belief that disclosure was in the “public interest” (as a form of quid pro quo for the removal of the requirement for disclosures to be in good faith). Public interest was not defined, leading to the prospect of litigation on this point. The EAT has now ruled that a disclosure relating to a contractual dispute affecting a group of staff, and not the wider public, can satisfy the test. The EAT noted that a relatively small group may be sufficient to satisfy the public interest test: what is sufficient is necessarily fact-sensitive.
It is the worker’s reasonable belief that matters, not whether the disclosure actually does involve an issue of public interest. In this case, the disclosure of alleged manipulation of accounts affecting the bonus of 100 senior employees was protected. The fact that the employee made the disclosure primarily to advance his own interests was not fatal given that he genuinely had other interests sufficiently in mind for the public interest test to be engaged.
The ruling suggests that a disclosure about a simple breach of a worker’s own contract will not be sufficient in itself, but where the worker reasonably believes that the same concern affects a group of other employees, this may be enough. This is a relatively low hurdle for employees. Employers should bear in mind that, where an employee raises a grievance about work-related matters which are not limited to that particular employee, they may be able to claim whistleblowing protection. (Chesterton Global v Nurmohamed)