A pre-construction manager, Nigel McArthur, has received a settlement payment of £137,000 in respect of a claim for unfair dismissal and a whistleblowing complaint raised in connection with a Balfour Beatty office building project in Cardiff. Mr McArthur alleged that he reported his concerns to his line manager but was told, in effect, that it was not his concern and was later bullied. Mr McArthur resigned from his role in February 2015 and has not worked since. Interestingly, Balfour Beatty accepted that it had failed to properly support Mr McArthur after he raised his concerns. 

While Balfour Beatty admitted liability for unfairly dismissing Mr McArthur, this was with the caveat that it had not acted illegally and it is reported that the Welsh Assembly were satisfied that there was no wrongdoing. 

The settlement is a salient reminder of the importance of having in place and following a clearly drafted and well-communicated policy on whistleblowing which sets out the steps to be taken in raising and handling a concern about potential wrongdoing at work as well as ensuring that any reprisals against whistle-blowers are treated with the utmost seriousness up to and including disciplinary action. 

Even if an employer is satisfied that there has been no wrongdoing, it can be helpful to show that any concerns raised will be taken seriously and to encourage an environment of openness and transparency in which concerns are raised as soon as they come to light. This is important not only from an employee relations perspective but also from a reputational perspective, given the risk of external disclosures being made (for example, to a regulator or even the media) before there has been an opportunity to investigate matters internally and take steps to address them as appropriate. It is particularly important to take a consistent and thorough approach in light of the changes to the UK whistleblowing legislation in 2013 which mean that protected disclosures no longer need to be made in “good faith” (although if a disclosure is made in bad faith, the level of any compensation payable in the event of a successful claim can be reduced by up to 25% and employers will also wish to make clear in their whistleblowing policies that if an employee is found to have raised malicious concerns this may result in disciplinary action).