Watson v 1) Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd 2) Ms H Meredith
In order that whistleblowers can safely raise issues regarding wrongdoing in the workplace there is specific statutory protection given to them against dismissal or detriment. The issue in the case of Watson v 1) Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd 2) Ms H Meredith was whether the employer’s decision to dismiss had been materially influenced by the disclosure of the wrongdoing or whether it was the conduct of the employee in refusing to attend work after he had made the disclosure.
Mr Watson was dismissed when he refused to return to work after exposing financial irregularities
Mr Watson had invested £100,000 into Hilary Meredith’s solicitor’s firm when he joined as the new CEO. However, just three months later serious financial irregularities came to light including £1 million worth of unpaid disbursements. After presenting this information to Ms Meredith he resigned and requested that his 12 month notice be reduced. In discussions whilst he was on garden leave he was asked to return as by immediately leaving he had damaged the business. When he refused he was dismissed.
It was held that the dismissal was not automatically unfair as the reason for the dismissal was not because he had made the protected disclosure but because he had, by immediately giving his notice, taken action which had further destabilised the firm. Given his position it had been expected that he would assist the firm deal with the problems rather than ‘running for the hills’. The employer had been entitled to regard this as a breach of his duties as a director and of the terms of his service agreement.
Whilst whistleblower protection may apply in a number of cases, the key issue in most is causation. It has to be established the reason for the treatment was the disclosure and not something else that the employee has done. The decision here highlights how the employee’s actions after making the disclosure are separable from the disclosure. The test is not whether “but for” the protected disclosures there would have been a dismissal, it is whether the reason or principal reason for dismissal was the protected disclosures.