Whistleblowing – Reasonable Belief In Public Interest

In cases concerning whistleblowing (protected disclosures), it is sufficient for the employee to have a reasonable belief that the disclosure is in the public interest? This is illustrated by the case Okwu v Rise Community Action.

Okwu v Rise Community Action

Case background

Rise was a small charity, providing support for individuals affected by domestic violence, female genital mutilation or HIV. It employed Miss Okwu as a domestic violence and female genital mutilation specialist worker. Having raised a number of issues regarding her performance, Rise extended her probation period by three months.

Miss Okwu then wrote to Rise raising a number of concerns that Rise was acting in breach of Data Protection legislation by failing to provide her with her own mobile phone and with secure storage, when she was dealing with sensitive and confidential personal information. Her employment was then terminated on performance grounds. She claimed she had been unfairly dismissed for making protected disclosures.

Tribunal proceedings

An employment tribunal found that the matters raised by the Miss Okwu were not in the public interest but concerned her own contractual position and even matters relating to potential breaches of the Data Protection Act were raised as relevant to her performance issues. Her claim was dismissed.

On appeal, the EAT held that the tribunal had misapplied the public interest test in relation to the shared mobile phone and file storage issues. Even if those matters had been raised in defence of her performance, this did not mean that she could not reasonably believe them to be in the public interest. Public interest need not be her only motivation and it was hard to see how these matters would not, in Ms Okwu’s reasonable belief, be in the public interest.

How can Nelsons help?

For further information or to comment on this article, please contact a member of our Employment Law team in DerbyLeicester or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.