International telecoms consultancy Netcom must pay nearly £295,000 in compensation to an accountant it sacked for revealing expense fiddles by the chief executive.
Only the second award made so far under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, passed to protect whistleblowers from victimisation, it confirms that the legislation is set to become a powerful tool in forcing companies to clean up their act and investigate the concerns of employees.
“Employers who shoot the messenger are now taking enormous risks with their reputations,” said Guy Dehn, director of Public Concern at Work.
Antonio Fernandes was sacked from his £70,000 job as Netcom’s UK chief financial officer last December after alerting the board that chief executive Stephen Woodhouse had claimed £371,000 in cash advances and expenses without receipts.
The tribunal found the company’s response to the problem was to “get rid of the junior man who had disclosed the position” by setting up a “smokescreen” to sack Fernandes.
An interim relief hearing in January ordered the company to put Fernandes back on the payroll until the case was heard. The chief executive then resigned.
Five claims brought so far under the Act have all been successful, and Dehn believes there are about 200 claims pending. The charity recently won a High Court ruling that information on the cases should be made public. Last month a care home charge nurse won £13,000.
Dehn said Fernandes’ award was so big because of his relatively high salary and also the fact that at 59 he may have difficulty getting another job.
“The tribunal will have been influenced by the fact that there is still a stigma to speaking out against an employer that may adversely affect job prospects, and also that quite a lot of employers are not attracted by the fact that someone has resorted to litigation.”
A spokesman for Netcom said, “In light of our decision to appeal it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”