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Foreign Office cleaners under fire after complaining about low pay

Posted by TonyBrownEmploymentSolicitor on November 16, 2015

Contract cleaners at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who complained to the Foreign Secretary about their low levels of pay are allegedly under threat of the sack by the cleaning company that employs them for “bringing the contract into disrepute”.

But are the cleaners protected against disciplinary action on the grounds that their complaint to the Foreign Secretary is protected under whistle blowing law?

A change to the legislation in 2013 restricts legal protection for whistleblowing to those raising allegations which they reasonably believe involve an issue of public interest. This change was intended to prevent workers from claiming whistleblowing protection for alleged breaches of their own contracts of employment and in the absence of any wider public interest implications. 

However, a case decided earlier this year suggests that in appropriate circumstances workers can still rely on breach of their own contracts for a whistle blowing claim.

In that case, the Claimant complained to his employer that it had manipulated its accounts to avoid making bonus payments to its managers, including him. Some 100 or so managers were likely to be affected. He was later dismissed. He alleged that his grievance amounted to a whistle blowing allegation. 

The issue for the ET was whether his tribunal claim stemmed from a personal grievance over pay, of the kind the 2013 change sought to exclude from whistleblowing protection or did he reasonably believe there to be a wider public interest involved? 

In the view of the tribunal, the 100 or so senior managers affected by the Claimant’s allegation of impropriety represented a sufficient group of the public to support a public interest. Accordingly, the tribunal upheld the Claimant’s whistleblowing claim. 

While a group of 100 employees was sufficient to imply a public interest in that case, the more important question is likely to be whether a complainant is entirely self-interested or can demonstrate some wider public interest in their disclosure.

If they lose their jobs over the complaint, the Foreign Office cleaners will undoubtedly claim that there is a public interest in showing that workers for government departments like the Foreign Office are poorly paid.

If you would like advice about how the issues in this note apply to your situation, please contact Tony Brown on 01225 740097 or by e mail to tony@bathemploymentlaw.co.uk

Warning - this bulletin is provided for information only and is not a substitute for legal advice. You should obtain specific, personal advice about your circumstances and not rely on the information or comments in this bulletin.