Does the making of a protected disclosure (also known as ‘whistleblowing’) mean an employee is immune from dismissal? No, said the Employment Appeal Tribunal recently in AJ Panayiotou v (1) Chief Constable Paul Kernaghan (2) Police & Crime Commissioner for Hampshire, if the reason for the dismissal is not the protected disclosure itself but the manner in which it was made.
The claimant, Mr Panayiotou, was a police officer who had made a number of protected disclosures within the meaning of section 43B of the Employment Rights Act 1996. These disclosures related to other officers’ treatment of victims. Mr Panayiotou’s concerns were, for the most part, vindicated in the ensuing investigation. However, he was dissatisfied with the police’s response, which he believed was not sufficient to resolve the problem he had identified.
Mr Panayioutou’s subsequent campaign for action to be taken involved raising a number of grievances and absorbed a great deal of management time. The police became increasingly exasperated by what it saw as an unmanageable officer and eventually took the decision to dismiss Mr Panayiotou, who lost no time in bringing a ‘whistleblowing’ claim. His case was that he had been unfairly dismissed under section 103A of the act, as a consequence of his protected disclosures.
Employment Appeals Tribunal
In finding in favour of the police, the EAT followed the earlier case of Bolton School v Evans  , the relevant principle being that a factor which was related to a protected disclosure might, in certain circumstances, be separable from the actual act of disclosing the information itself. The EAT took the view that the whistleblowing legislation allowed a distinction between the making of protected disclosures and the manner in which an employee presented them to the employer.
The judgment in Panayiotou gives employers some respite from recalcitrant ‘whistleblowers’ who would otherwise receive uncapped compensation if successful in their claims. The challenge for respondent employers in this situation is to persuade the tribunal that the reason for dismissal is not the protected disclosure itself but the employee’s overzealous conduct in trying to effect changes. This distinction will not always be obvious in practice.
For more information on any of the issues raised in this article or to discuss dealing with whistleblowing in your workplace, contact our Employment Law team or call us on 0117 904 6000.