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Thursday31 July 2014

What can I tell the media?

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If your employer hasn’t paid you, you may be tempted to spill the beans to a journalist. We examine the legal and ethical implications

Professional

Richard Brindley

Richard Brindley
Executive director, RIBA Professional Services

Q: I have been approached by a journalist who has heard I threatened to leave my firm because I haven’t been paid. What can I tell her?

Before speaking with the journalist, check your employment contract carefully to see what contractual obligations you may have and the implications of breaching them — you could risk losing your job.

Your employment contract most likely has a confidentiality clause that would prohibit you from publicising derogatory information about your employer, and could even forbid you from speaking directly to a journalist or the media without prior permission from your boss.

You also have common-law obligations to act responsibly and, if you are a member of a professional body, possible professional obligations of confidentiality, such as the RIBA’s Code of Professional Conduct. So check those professional codes too and, if you are unsure, take legal advice. Most professional bodies will provide their members with professional legal advice on these matters. The RIBA provides this service for free to members of any category.

Although it would not apply to your particular case, you also have a right and indeed an obligation to disclose information required by a statutory authority such as the police, tax office and government departments. This would override any contractual obligations.

You also have “whistle-blower” rights and protection under the “Public Interests Disclosure Act 1998” to be able to disclose information to the media that is of legitimate public interest. But be very wary here to ensure that information you decide to disclose about your firm is in the “public interest”.

Non-payment of your salary on its own, won’t be considered in the public interest. But if you have evidence that your firm is doing something illegal on a wider scale, such as flouting employment law for a number of employees or avoiding tax payments, that could come under that category.

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