Court of Appeal judges have upheld a landmark £2m award in a whistleblowing case that marked the first-time directors have been sued for unfairly dismissing an employee. As a result, the reward has become one of the largest in employment tribunal history.
Alexander Osipov was fired in October 2014 after a series of disagreements between himself, Frank Timis – IPL’s largest individual shareholder and chairman Antony Sage over the business’s operations and specifically the award of contracts in Niger. He brought proceedings to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal and victimisation on the grounds he was a whistleblower.
What is Whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing is a term given to a person who informs on a person or organization regarded as engaging in an unlawful or immoral activity. According to ACAS, ‘At the moment, workers disclosing information about wrongdoing are protected in certain circumstances under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998’. The whistleblower is usually not personally affected by the danger or illegality. Whistleblowing occurs when a worker raises a concern about danger or illegality that affects others, for example members of the public.
general examples of whistleblowing matters include:
• criminal offences or activities
• exposing fraud
• financial mismanagement or corruption
• mis-selling of pensions or financial products
• physical or emotional abuse of prisoners, children or the elderly in care
• health and safety issues concerning the workplace that puts the safety of workers or visitors at risk
• failure to investigate allegations of sexual assault by one employee against another
• failure to comply with legal obligations, or likelihood of failure to comply with legal obligations
• breaches of legislation, for example the Data Protection Act
• medical negligence in a health care establishment
• payments in exchange for awarding contracts
• risks to the environment.
What does this mean for HR and Employers?
Employers will now have to take steps to ensure fair treatment in the case of whistleblowing. This could include steps such as: whistleblowing training and implementing their policies in a fair and consistent manner ensuring that HR managers pay more than lip service to whistleblowing policies and procedures. Laura Anthony, associate at Dentons, said it was imperative employers identify whistleblowing complaints as soon as possible and any decision to dismiss an employee who claims to have made important disclosures is taken only after thorough and careful consideration.
The case establishes that individual directors who decide to dismiss someone for making protected disclosures can be held personally liable for such decisions and face financial consequences.
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