Employment Tribunals… why are HR & Whistleblowing key?

Employment tribunals have been in the headlines in recent years, acting as the stage for disputes between employees and employers, such as in the cases of Ms N Hands v Mitie Ltd and of Dr T William v Lewisham and…

Blog25th Jun 2024

By Sean McAuley and Donna Wrigglesworth

Employment tribunals have been in the headlines in recent years, acting as the stage for disputes between employees and employers, such as in the cases of Ms N Hands v Mitie Ltd and of Dr T William v Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust. They’re also expected to increase in the wake of many companies rolling back their flexible and hybrid working policies.

These cases and many others highlight two of the crucial roles in the launching and handling of employment tribunals: whistleblowing, and HR.

WHAT IS AN EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL?

Employment tribunals are responsible for hearing claims from people who think someone such as an employer or potential employer has treated them unlawfully. They make decisions in these legal disputes that revolve around employment law.

This includes cases of possible unfair dismissal, discrimination, and unfair deductions from pay.

SO, WHAT ROLE DOES WHISTLEBLOWING PLAY?

Whistleblowing, the act of a worker passing on or disclosing information concerning wrongdoing within an organisation, has become increasingly prevalent in the modern workplace. There are many cases of whistleblowing that underscore the importance of it in bringing to light issues that may otherwise have remained hidden.

When employees are courageous enough to “blow the whistle” on activity that is illegal, immoral, fraudulent, or unsafe, they play a crucial role in upholding organisational integrity and accountability. From exposing financial fraud to highlighting workplace discrimination, whistleblowers are often at the forefront of upholding the integrity of an organisation.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PROTECTION FOR WHISTLEBLOWERS

In the UK, if an employee decides to ‘blow the whistle’ they are protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA), which amended the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA).

The legislation was introduced to protect employees and workers from being dismissed or subjected to detriment because they have made a protected disclosure.

However, the road for whistleblowers can still be full of challenges and understandable worries. Many employees may face the potential for retaliation, ostracisation, and even unfair dismissal. Fear of these can often deter people from speaking up. This is why it is imperative for organisations to implement a robust whistleblowing process that protects whistleblowers and fosters an internal culture of transparency and trust.

By establishing clear channels for reporting concerns, coupled with robust protection mechanisms for whistleblowers, organisations can encourage employees to come forward without fear of reprisal.

Proactive measures such as whistleblower training and awareness programs can further empower employees to speak out against wrongdoing, thereby safeguarding organisational values and reputation.

THE ROLE OF HR: WHY ARE HR DEPARTMENTS SO IMPORTANT IN EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNALS?

As the upholders of an organisation’s policies and procedures, the HR team plays a pivotal role in ensuring that organisations are adequately prepared to navigate the complexities of employment tribunals. From proactive risk mitigation to diligent adherence to legal requirements, HR professionals are instrumental in safeguarding organisational interests amidst legal disputes.

1. KEEPING THOROUGH DOCUMENTATION OF EMPLOYEE ISSUES

One of the primary functions of HR in tribunal preparedness is the establishment and enforcement of robust HR policies and procedures. By keeping thorough documentation of employee issues such as grievances and disciplinary actions, HR departments provide organisations with a solid foundation for defending their actions in tribunal proceedings. Storage of whistleblowing concerns and a record of all investigation activity should always be maintained in a safe and secure Case Management system.

2. ENSURING THAT TRIBUNALS ARE RUN CORRECTLY & FAIRLY

HR professionals serve as maintainers of procedural fairness, so they ensure that all disciplinary actions and terminations are conducted in full compliance with legal requirements and organisational policies. By meticulously following due process, HR mitigates the risk of unfair dismissal claims and enhances the organisation’s credibility in tribunal proceedings.

3. PROACTIVE RISK MANAGEMENT & MITIGATION

HR’s role also extends beyond procedural compliance. HR engages in proactive risk management, using effective employee relations strategies to identify and address potential sources of conflict before they escalate into legal disputes. Whether through mediation, conflict resolution training, or fostering a culture of open communication, HR holds a crucial position in mitigating the risk of tribunal claims.

HOW CAN WE HELP?

In navigating the complex landscape of employment tribunals, whistleblowing and HR emerge as indispensable allies for organisations seeking to uphold integrity, accountability, and legal compliance. While whistleblowing serves as a vital mechanism for uncovering wrongdoing and promoting transparency, HR’s proactive measures and meticulous adherence to legal requirements are essential for mitigating legal risks and safeguarding organisational interests.

By fostering a culture that values ethical conduct, transparency, and procedural fairness, organisations can create an environment where whistleblowers feel empowered to speak up, and HR can effectively navigate tribunal proceedings with confidence and integrity. In doing so, organisations not only protect their reputation and the bottom line but also protect employment rights, and uphold the fundamental principles of justice, fairness, and safety in the workplace.

Our experienced team at AAB People is perfectly placed to ensure that your organisation is well-placed to avoid employment tribunals and, where necessary, handle them with preparedness, fairness, and professionalism. And, working in perfect harmony, our team at SeeHearSpeakUp can help you establish a robust whistleblowing process that upholds your organisation’s integrity, protects whistleblowers, and encourages a culture of transparency.

If you would like to find out more about the parts whistleblowing and HR can play in employment tribunals, get in touch with Sean McAuley, a member of our SeeHearSpeakUp team, Donna Wrigglesworth, Principal HR & Employment Law Consultant at AAB People, or your usual AAB contact.

By Sean McAuley and Donna Wrigglesworth

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