UK businesses should prepare themselves for a potential rise in the number of whistleblowing and health and safety related cases as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, says a leading employment lawyer at Irwin Mitchell.
Shah Qureshi, who is head of the Employment and Professional Discipline team at Irwin Mitchell in London, said claims relating to the failure to protect employees’ health & safety in the workplace could rise in the months ahead as the UK economy emerges from lockdown.
“The coronavirus is having a devastating effect on people’s lives and also their jobs and I expect that as lockdown restrictions are lifted, the number of employment disputes will rise, particularly in the areas of health and safety and whistleblowing.
“The recent disclosures by drivers at Movianto regarding avoidable delays in deploying vital PPE is a case in point” said Shah.
Whistleblowing is when a worker passes on information in the public interest concerning particular types of wrongdoing.
A worker who makes a disclosure must reasonably believe that they are acting in the public interest. They must also reasonably believe that the disclosure shows past, present or likely future wrongdoing falling into one or more categories, such as the health and safety of any individual being endangered, criminal offences or a failure to comply with an obligation set out in law.
Shah added, “The government has to an extent supported businesses, employees and the self-employed during the lockdown, but they are clearly very keen to start getting people back into work.
“Although they have issued detailed guidelines for companies to follow, ultimately the responsibility falls with the employer. This includes their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act and other statutory regulations”
“If a business is in a position where it feels the need to open, but fails to provide an environment in which employees feel safe, it will be exposing itself to claims related to health and safety obligations and whistleblowing.
“We’re also hearing of cases where businesses are asking furloughed staff to work when obviously they shouldn’t be.
“It is hard to know how widespread furlough fraud is but in those cases where it’s happening, those being asked to do it, as well as those who haven’t been furloughed but continue to work for the same organisation, could blow the whistle,” said Shah.