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Blacklisting is when someone, (or group of individuals) is seen by an organisation as a person (or group) who cannot be trusted or who have done something wrong. A blacklist can list people to be discriminated against, refused employment, or censored.

In employment terms, blacklisting refers to denying people employment for either political reasons (due to actual or suspected political affiliation), due to a history of trade union activity, or due to a history of whistleblowing, for example on safety or corruption issues.

The construction blacklisting scandal in 2009 uncovered a list of more than 3,000 workers who were considered to pose a risk to their employers if employed within the construction industry. The Information Commissioners Office conducted an investigation and raid of an organization called The Consulting Association. Trade union Unite claim that ten years on, blacklisting still exists in the construction sector.

The issue: Some of the most harmful victimisation can occur when a whistleblower has left their place of work, but finds out through references, emails, word of mouth or a more formal blacklist, that their reputation has been damaged. This can lead to the whistleblower struggling to find work, or in the worst cases, they find their career has been destroyed.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) 1998 provides a remedy against those organisations or managers who write the reference or use a blacklist to damage the worker, but provides no legal action against a perspective employer who denies a job opportunity to a whistleblower because they become aware of the whistleblower raising concerns in a previous job role.

The problem is PIDA does not see job applicants (those applying, interviewing or providing references for a job role) as ‘workers’, and the law only recognises those formally appointed to a position. The only exception to this is NHS job applicants who are who protected under PIDA from job application and beyond.