In Okwu v Rise Community Action the EAT has emphasised the importance of employment tribunals considering whether an employee reasonably believes their protected disclosure was made in the public interest, when determining whistleblowing claims.
Miss Okwu worked for Rise Community Action, a small charity providing support for individuals affected by domestic violence amongst other issues. Having raised numerous issues regarding Miss Okwu’s performance, Rise extended her probation period by three months. After that Miss Okwu raised concerns about Rise acting in breach of the Data Protection Act by failing to provide her with her own mobile phone and secure storage facilities. Miss Okwu was dealing with sensitive and confidential personal information which she believed was not adequately protected. Subsequently, Miss Okwu’s employment was terminated on performance grounds; she then brought tribunal proceedings claiming that she had been unfairly dismissed for making protected disclosures.
The tribunal dismissed Miss Okwu claim, finding that the matters raised by Miss Okwu were not in the public interest but concerned her own contractual position. In particular, the tribunal found the concerns raised about potential breaches of the Data Protection Act were done so in connection with Miss Okwu’s performance issues.
The EAT found the tribunal’s approach to be incorrect, as it had failed to explore with Miss Okwu the extent to which she had a reasonable belief that her disclosure (relating to potential breaches of the Data Protection Act) was in the public interest. Given the sensitive information involved, the EAT found it improbable that she did not have a reasonable belief that her disclosures were in the public interest.
“Whistleblowing claims are technical and complicated. Whilst this case does not create any new principles of law, it is a useful reminder of the fact that claimants need only have a reasonable belief that their disclosure is made in the public interest. If you need assistance with similar issues contact the team here”.