In Ibrahim v HCA International Limited (‘HCA’) the EAT has confirmed that an allegation of defamation can give rise to a whistleblowing claim.
Mr Ibrahim worked for HCA as an interpreter in a private hospital. In a grievance, Mr Ibrahim requested HCA investigate rumours being spread about him having allegedly breached confidentiality so that he could 'clear his name'. HCA investigated and rejected Mr Ibrahim’s grievance. When he was later dismissed, Mr Ibrahim brought claims against HCA in the tribunal including a claim of whistleblowing, asserting his grievance amounted to a “protected disclosure” for the purposes of that claim.
Dismissing Mr Ibrahim's whistleblowing claim the ET found that: (1) a complaint that false rumours had been spread was not a disclosure of information that showed a breach of a legal obligation and (2) Mr Ibrahim's complaint was not one that, in his reasonable belief, was made in the public interest.
Mr Ibrahim appealed to the EAT. Although the EAT dismissed his appeal, Her Honour Judge Stacey confirmed that a “breach of legal obligation” for the purposes of a whistleblowing claim was wide enough to include allegations of defamation and breach of a statutory duty (for example, duties contained in the Defamation Act 2013). Ultimately Mr Ibrahim failed to show he held a reasonable belief that his disclosure was in the public interest, as he only sought to protect his personal interest as his concern related to the making of the false rumours and their effect on him, and therefore his claim failed.
Associate solicitor Nick Benton comments:
"This is a helpful case which gives guidance on the breach of a legal obligation test, for the purposes of whistleblowing claims, and also reinforces the need for “protected disclosures” to be made in the public interest. Employers should carefully consider all grievances ensuring they are thoroughly and properly investigated whilst also being mindful of the potential for them to amount to a protected disclosure."
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