The Public Interest Disclosure (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 protects those who report serious wrongdoing in the workplace from dismissal or detrimental treatment as a result of their whistleblowing.
Whistleblowing is speaking out when you have witnessed something unethical or illegal in the workplace and you think it is in the public interest to know.
Organisations should have a clear and fair policy on whistleblowing because it is not the same as an employee grievance.
There were some important changes to Northern Ireland law on whistleblowing in October 2017 and those who have responsibility for an organisation’s whistleblowing policy should be aware of them. For example, it will be the tribunal/court and NOT the employer who decides what is, or is not, in the public interest. It is also important to be aware that ‘public interest’ does not necessarily mean large numbers of people need to be affected or interested. The courts will take a case by case approach.
There is no longer a need to show that whistleblowing is being done ‘in good faith’. However, where the courts feel the whistleblower is acting in bad faith or for revenge, they may lower any compensation for the whistleblower by 25%.
A significant loop-hole has also been closed through the changes to the legislation. Where a whistleblower is treated unfairly afterwards by a co-worker, the employer now has ‘vicarious liability’, meaning they are jointly responsible and a claim can be taken against both the employer and the co-worker.
Significantly, for those working in the health service, the definition of ‘worker’ has also been extended to include student nurses and midwives who are on work experience. And in fact, the reforms to the legislation now allow the Department for the Economy (DfE) to change the definition of ‘worker’ again in the future, if the need arises.