The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (the Act) continues to show its teeth with another successful application for interim relief granted in Cork Circuit Court1. This follows the first application for interim relief under the Act in June this year- click here to recap on this case.
This recent case reiterates that employers need to tread carefully if they dismiss an employee who has made a protected disclosure. The threshold for bringing a claim for interim relief is relatively low – all the employee needs to show is that there are "substantial grounds" for contending their dismissal was linked to their protected disclosure. There is no requirement for the applicant to prove that the dismissal was, in fact, wholly or mainly due to whistleblowing.
The claimant, a manager of an IT office in Cork, raised a number of health and safety issues about potential dangers caused by the use of their offices. The complaints related to sewage issues and people being locked in toilets for three hours. She reported the issues to head office in Texas and was subsequently dismissed over the phone. The respondent company alleged that the decision to terminate her had been made a few days before she made the protected disclosure.
Judge O'Donnabhain held she had made a stateable case that she was dismissed because of the protected disclosure. The terms of the relief restrained the respondent from dismissing Ms Kelly or stopping her pay, pending a full determination of the case.
- The case highlights that the availability of interim relief under the whistleblowing legislation, coupled with the relatively low evidential threshold for such cases, is a financially attractive option for employees who are able to connect the dots between the termination of their employment and any past protected disclosures.
- Employers need to be mindful of the potential financial sanctions they may be exposed to when dismissing someone who made a protected disclosure. Apart from having to pay them until the full hearing before the WRC, they may also be exposed to a possible sanction of five years' remuneration if the employee succeeds in proving that their unfair dismissal was as a result of making a protected disclosure.