In light of the Garda whistleblowing issues that have been unfolding in recent weeks, we thought employers might find some information on whistleblowing useful.
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 is to establish a comprehensive legislative framework protecting whistleblowers in all industries in Ireland.
The purpose of the Bill 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 Bill will offer significant employment and other protections to whistleblowers if they suffer any penalties at the hands of their employer for coming forward with information of wrongdoing in their place of work.
The Bill, which is due to be enacted shortly, closely reflects best practices in whistleblowing protection in developed nations around the world.
According to Minister Howlin the Bill “should 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 would be a massive step forward in Ireland’s attempt to match the standards set by other established nations.
It is important to note that limitations relating to the length of service that usually apply in the case of Unfair Dismissals are set aside in the case of protected disclosures.
As a result of this Bill, whistleblowers will benefit from civil immunity from actions for damages and a qualified privilege under defamation law.
The legislation will provide a number of disclosure channels for potential whistleblowers and stresses that the disclosure, rather than the whistleblower, should be the focus of the attention.
Protections for the whistleblower remain in place even where the information disclosed does not reveal any wrongdoing when examined. Deliberate false reporting, however, will not be protected.
These measures, when enacted, 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.
The Seanad Final Stage debate on the Protected Disclosures Bill 2013 was held on the 20th November 2013 and the Bill was passed by the Seanad. The Bill, which may be subject to minor changes, will soon be debated and passed by the Dáil. Once it is signed by President Michael D. Higgins, the Protected Disclosures Bill 2013 will come into operation and, according to Minister Howlin, he intends for the legislation to be “commenced immediately on its enactment”.
What should employers do?
As it will apply to all employees in Ireland once enacted; 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 Bill.
It is important that cultural issues and negative connotations surrounding whistleblowing are addressed within the company to ensure that employees adhere to the appropriate whistleblowing guidelines.