Whistleblowing at work : the legal implications for employees of making disclosures of confidential information
The thesis examines the nature and extent of protection available to "whistleblowers", employees who disclose to outside bodies wrongdoing or malpractice at work. It begins with a consideration of the philosophical basis for providing protection for such employees. The legal rights of the whistleblowing employee in English law are then considered. In chapter three case law on the duty of confidence is examined and conclusions drawn on its application to employees dismissed for blowing the whistle, with particular reference to whether disclosure of information involves a breach of the employment contract. The general law on unfair dismissal is examined in chapter four to determine the extent to which an employee can claim that a dismissal for raising a concern is unfair. Protection for whistleblowing on specific issues such as race or sex discrimination, and health and safety issues is considered in chapter five. International standards governing the protection of the right to freedom of expression, in particular Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, are examined in chapter six. Chapter seven comprises a comparative study of the protection available to employees who blow the whistle in the USA, where protection exists for whistleblowers both at a constitutional level and in specific legislation. A case study is included in chapter eight in which the position of employees in the National Health Service is examined in detail, with regard to their contractual position and the practical difficulties faced by those who wish to raise concerns about matters at work. A fundamental distinction drawn throughout the thesis is between two types of whistleblowing: "watchdog" whistleblowing, referring the raising of concerns about immediate threats to health and safety or of serious financial loss; and "protest" whistleblowing, referring to the participation of employees in debate on matters that are in the public interest, using specialist informztion gained from their employment. The recognition of these two forms of whistleblowing aids the analysis of the limitations of the legal protection as well as proving useful in the determining the scope of proposed reform. The argument is made that the protection currently available is inadequate and the thesis ends with proposals for legal reform.