The right of a worker to be protected from detriment if they expose their employer’s illegal activity is an important one. The legislation sets out that this right is afforded to “workers”, a wider category than employers but nonetheless one that has some restrictions.
Previously, it was unclear whether members of a limited liability partnership (LLP) were entitled to this protection but a recent landmark ruling has confirmed that they are “workers” for the purposes of whistleblowing claims.
In the case of Clyde & Co LLP and another v Bates van Winkelhof the claimant was an equity partner of Clyde & Co LLP, a law firm which was set up as an LLP. Ms Bates van Winkelhof was seconded to a Tanzanian law firm and, during her time there, discovered that the managing director of the firm habitually paid bribes to secure work and win cases. She informed Clyde & Co of her findings and was subsequently expelled from the partnership. She brought various claims in the employment tribunal, including a claim for whistleblowing.
The employment tribunal decided that it did not have jurisdiction to hear her whistleblowing claim because she was not a “worker”. Ms Bates van Winkelhof argued that she was a worker and appealed the decision to the EAT, which found in her favour. Clyde & Co appealed the EAT’s decision to the Court of Appeal which again found in the claimant’s favour. Ms Bates van Winkelhof will now be able to pursue her whistleblowing claim in an employment tribunal later this year.
This ruling is an important watershed for the heavily regulated areas in which LLPs are common, such as the legal sector, accountancy and financial services. Given that LLP members are likely to have access to high level information, they are in prime position to expose wrongdoing. Regulators are likely to welcome this ruling since it will encourage members to raise concerns with the comfort of knowing that they will be protected if they are subjected to detriment as a result.