The Protected Disclosures Act, 2014 is now in effect.
The Protected Disclosure Bill 2013, commonly known as the ‘Whistleblowers Bill’ was published on July 3rd 2013 by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, T.D. The Bill was drafted to establish a comprehensive legislative framework protecting whistle-blowers in all industries in Ireland.
The Bill recently passed through the Oireachtas and Minister Howlin announced the commencement of the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014 today.
The purpose of this Act is to protect workers who raise concerns regarding wrongdoing (or potential wrongdoing) that they have become aware of one way or another in the workplace. The Act offers significant employment and other protections to whistle-blowers if they suffer any penalties at the hands of their employer for coming forward with information of wrongdoing in their place of work.
The Protected Disclosures Act, 2014 closely reflects best practices in whistle-blowing protection in developed nations around the world.
Minister Howlin said that the Act “sends out a very clear message that whistleblowers’ concerns must be listened to and acted on and those who make such reports should not be penalised for doing so.”
The Minister wanted to “instil all workers with confidence that should they ever need to take that decisive step and speak-up on concerns that they have about possible misconduct in the workplace, they will find that society values their actions as entirely legitimate, appropriate and in the public interest”.
Some key elements included in the Bill are as follows:
Compensation of up to a maximum of five years remuneration can be awarded in the case of an Unfair Dismissal that came about as a result of making a protected disclosure. This is a massive step forward in Ireland’s attempt to match the standards set by other established nations.
The Act also provides for interim relief if an employee is dismissed for making a protected disclosure.
*It is important to note that limitations relating to the length of service that usually apply in Unfair Dismissals cases are set aside in instances of protected disclosures.
As a result of this Act, whistle-blowers will benefit from civil immunity from actions for damages and a qualified privilege under defamation law.
The legislation provides a number of disclosure channels for potential whistle-blowers and stresses that the disclosure, rather than the whistle-blower, should be the focus of the attention.
The Act provides strong protections against the disclosure of a whistle-blower’s identity.
Protections for the whistle-blower remain in place even where the information disclosed does not reveal any wrongdoing when examined. Deliberate false reporting, however, is not be protected.
These measures should encourage more people to come forward, and feel comfortable doing so, when they become aware of (or suspect) any criminal activity, misconduct or wrongdoing in the workplace.
What should employers do?
As it applies to all employees in Ireland including contractors, agency workers, Gardaí and members of the defence forces; all employers should establish and clearly communicate a comprehensive ‘whistleblowing’ policy to ensure that staff are aware of and understand the provisions of the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014.
It is important that cultural issues and negative connotations surrounding whistle-blowing are addressed within companies to ensure that employees adhere to the appropriate whistleblowing guidelines.