In one of the first high-profile cases under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, two employees have successfully secured an injunction in the Circuit Court which prevents their dismissal. We examine the facts of the case and the impact the decision is likely to have for employers in similar scenarios.
In the recent Lifeline Ambulance Service case, two former employees, Mick Dougan and Sean Clarke, availed of the protection provided by the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (“Act”).
Both employees stated that they had made a protected disclosure to the Revenue Commissioner in January 2016 in relation to “financial matters and wrongdoing within the company”. In April 2016, they were informed that, following a review by an external consultant, their roles were at risk of redundancy and in June 2016, they were dismissed by reason of redundancy.
Mr Dougan, former assistant managing director and Mr Clarke, former director of ambulance operations, allege that they were made redundant as a result of having made a protected disclosure. They issued unfair dismissal proceedings in the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) and applied to the Circuit Court under the Act for reinstatement, pending the hearing of their unfair dismissal cases.
The Circuit Court held that, while it was not satisfied that the employees’ dismissals were wholly or mainly due to the fact that they had made a protected disclosure, they had met the threshold of establishing that there were substantial grounds for contending their dismissals were wholly or mainly due to the protected disclosure.
Lifeline Ambulance Services did not agree to reinstate the former employees. It offered to allow one employee to remain on “gardening leave” and the other to be re-engaged as a paramedic, a role he had not been employed in since 2002. The Circuit Court, however, found that the employees had reasonably rejected those offers and ordered that their salaries be paid until the hearing of their unfair dismissal claims by the WRC.
This is the first protected disclosures case which has resulted in an order for interim relief being awarded against an employer under the Act.
If an employer is planning to dismiss an employee who has made a protected disclosure, it will need to exercise caution. The employer should ensure that it will be in a position to prove that the dismissal is in no way connected to the protected disclosure made. Otherwise an employer may be ordered by the Circuit Court to reinstate, re-engage or pay a former employee until their unfair dismissal case is heard. When the case is heard by the WRC, the employer could be ordered to pay up to five years’ remuneration as compensation.