In the recent case of Tiplady v City of Bradford Metropolitan Council the Court of Appeal considered whether a detriment suffered by an employee as a result of blowing the whistle has to be related to their employment for the employee to be protected, or is it sufficient that it only affects the employee’s private or personal life.
Facts of the case
Mrs Tiplady was employed by the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council (the Council) as a senior planning officer. Between 2014 and 2016, she and her husband complained to the Council about a sewer and the construction of a shed at the property they owned. Mrs Tiplady was dissatisfied with the way the Council handled the problem. She lodged a grievance shortly before resigning in October 2016.
She subsequently brought a claim of “ordinary” constructive unfair dismissal as well as “automatically” unfair dismissal and detriments suffered as a result of making protected disclosures. Most of the detriments about which Mrs Tiplady complained related to the way the Council had handled her sewer and property issues as a householder, and not to her capacity as an employee.
One of the questions that the Tribunal had to consider as part of Mrs Tiplady’s case was whether the detriments which were not related to her employment could be considered as detriments under the Employment Rights Act 1996 at all.
The Employment Tribunal dismissed Mrs Tiplady’s claims. It held that the Council had either not subjected her to a detriment or that any detriment she had suffered had not been on the grounds of her protected disclosures. Mrs Tiplady appealed. The Employment Appeal Tribunal found that protection from detriment is afforded to workers so must relate to the suffering of a detriment in employment. Mrs Tiplady appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal also dismissed Mrs Tiplady’s appeal. It concluded that when considering if a detriment was suffered “in the employment field”, the tribunal should try to establish in what “capacity” the detriment was suffered. In other words, “whether [the detriment] was suffered by the claimant as an employee”.
It is worth noting, however, that the Court did not think that “the employment field” should be interpreted narrowly and that borderline cases were possible. Accordingly it said this case should not be taken as an attempt to set out definitive guidance.
Mrs Tiplady’s case makes it clear that under the Employment Rights Act, a detriment suffered as a result of a protected disclosure has to relate in some way to the person’s employment. However, the Court of Appeal kept the options open for the cases where the effect of a whistleblowing detriment is ambiguous and where it may be difficult to differentiate the effect it has on the employee’s personal life from that it has on their employment.