July 31, 2017

Whistleblower Protection: When Private Turns Public

In Chesterton Global Ltd & Anor v Nurmohamed & Anor (Rev 1) [2017] EWCA Civ 979 the Court of Appeal provided some much needed clarity on the definition of “public interest” in whistleblower claims.

Mr Nurmohamed was a senior manager for the estate agent, Chesterton Global Ltd. He made a number of disclosures to his superiors, alleging manipulation of internal accounts to make them appear less profitable, thereby reducing the amount of commission payable to himself and over 100 other senior managers. Mr Nurmohamed was dismissed, following which he brought whistleblowing claims alleging that he had been dismissed because of the disclosures.

The question before the Court of Appeal was whether Mr Nurmohamed’s disclosures could be considered to be in the “public interest” because they served the private interests of other workers, as well as his own. The Court held that where a disclosure was in a worker’s private interest, this did not preclude it from being in the public interest, although this would depend on the facts of the case. The Court highlighted that the following factors would normally be relevant: (i) the number of workers affected; (ii) the nature of the interest affected; (iii) whether the wrongdoing was deliberate; and (iv) the size and prominence of the wrongdoer. The Court found that Mr Nurmohamed’s disclosures were in the public interest, taking the following into account: over 100 employees were affected; deliberate wrongdoing was alleged; the value of the alleged wrongdoing was significant (£2 to £3 million); and Chestertons was well-established in London’s property market.

This case is likely to result in an increase in whistleblowing claims, and employers would be wise to review their policies and procedures, including those relating to whistleblowing and legal compliance, to make sure they are up to date and appropriate.

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