Is a complaint of defamation capable of being a protected disclosure?
Mr Ibrahim was an interpreter for Arabic-speaking patients in a private hospital. He asked a senior manager to investigate rumours that he was responsible for breaches of patient confidentiality. Both when raising this issue with the senior manager and in his subsequent grievance, Mr Ibrahim confirmed that he wanted to clear his name and restore his reputation.
Mr Ibrahim’s grievance was not upheld and he was subsequently dismissed. He brought a claim alleging, amongst other things, that he had suffered a detriment for having made a protected disclosure (blowing the whistle).
The Employment Tribunal dismissed Mr Ibrahim’s claim, stating that complaining about false rumours did not amount to a disclosure of information tending to show a breach of a legal obligation and, therefore, it could not be a protected disclosure. Furthermore, the disclosures were not made in the public interest as they were made with a view to Mr Ibrahim clearing his name.
The Claimant appealed. The EAT held that while Mr Ibrahim may not have made reference to ‘defamation’ when raising the issues with his employer, his complaint of damaging false rumours was clearly an allegation that he was being defamed. The fact that he had not used the precise legal terminology did not matter. As such, the Tribunal had erred in concluding that there had not been a breach of a legal obligation.
However, the EAT agreed with the Tribunal that the disclosure had not been made in the public interest – Mr Ibrahim’s only concern was that false rumours had been made about him. Therefore, his claim failed.
Comment: This case reminds employers that what constitutes “information which tends to show the breach of a legal obligation” is very wide and sophisticated legal terminology does not need to be used by the employee.
Employers should be wary of the need to carefully consider grievances brought by employees (and workers, too) and be mindful of the potential for them to amount to a protected disclosure.
Ibrahim v HCA International Limited (2018)
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