The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (the “Act”) was enacted on 15 July 2014. The purpose of the Act is to provide a statutory framework within which workers can raise concerns and disclose information regarding potential wrongdoing that has come to their attention in the course of their work in the knowledge that they can avail of significant employment and other protections if they are penalised by their employer or suffer any detriment for doing so. It is important to note that in order to enjoy the protections of the Act, disclosures must be made in accordance with the provisions set out in the Act, including the relevant time limits for a disclosure. A recent decision of the Labour Court emphasised the need for a ‘disclosure’ to fall within the meaning of the Act and to be made within the applicable time periods (Appeal Of Adjudication Officer Decision No: ADJ-000005011 CA-000007010-001).
Section 5 of the Act defines a protected disclosure as:
5.(1) For the purposes of this Act “protected disclosure” means, subject to subsection (6)and sections 17 and 18, a disclosure of relevant information (whether before or after the date of the passing of this Act) made by a worker in the manner specified in section 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10.
(2) For the purposes of this Act information is “relevant information” if—
(a) in the reasonable belief of the worker, it tends to show one or more relevant wrongdoings, and
(b) it came to the attention of the worker in connection with the worker’s employment.
(3) The following matters are relevant wrongdoings for the purposes of this Act—
(a) that an offence has been, is being or is likely to be committed,
(b) that a person has failed, is failing or is likely to fail to comply with any legal obligation, other than one arising under the worker’s contract of employment or other contract whereby the worker undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services,
(c) that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur,
(d) that the health or safety of any individual has been, is being or is likely to be endangered,
(e) that the environment has been, is being or is likely to be damaged,
(f) that an unlawful or otherwise improper use of funds or resources of a public body, or of other public money, has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur,
(g) that an act or omission by or on behalf of a public body is oppressive, discriminatory or grossly negligent or constitutes gross mismanagement, or
(h) that information tending to show any matter falling within any of the preceding paragraphs has been, is being or is likely to be concealed or destroyed.
James Murphy (the “Complainant”) was a long-term employee of AIB (the “Respondent”) and it was the Complainant’s case that he has been victimised by the Respondent for making protected disclosures.
The Complainant identified a number of issues which he believed met the criteria of a protected disclosure over a prolonged period from 2006 to 2016, when he lodged his complaint. The “disclosures” identified related to: an issue in 2006 following an article in a newspaper article; bullying and harassment in 2011; and an alleged assault in 2015. It was alleged that the detriment he suffered as a result of making such “disclosures” included his performance review being downgraded, defamation, and isolation in the workplace.
The Complainant lodged his claim on 14 September 2016. In accordance with the Act, the cognisable period would have been 15 March 2016 – 14 September 2016.
Decision of Labour Court
The Labour Court held that no protected disclosure was made within the meaning of the Act and, in any event, within the cognisable period, noting that the complaint was not filed within the prescribed time limits as outlined in Schedule 2 of section 12(6) and (7) of the Act.