The long awaited Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (the Act) comes into effect today. The Act provides comprehensive whistleblowing protection for workers in all sectors. It protects workers from being penalised for whistleblowing – disclosing information about criminal offences, miscarriages of justice, failure to comply with the law, the destruction or concealment of information and other alleged wrongdoings.
From an employer's perspective the following features of the legislation are particularly noteworthy:
- There is a maximum award of 5 years' remuneration for dismissal on grounds of having made a protected disclosure. This is in stark contrast to the 2 years' remuneration available under the existing statutory unfair dismissals regime. The deterrent element of this level of sanction means that businesses need to be "whistleblowing ready". Public sector bodies must as a mandatory obligation put whistleblowing policies in place. Where private sector employers have policies already in place they need to review them to ensure that they are in compliance with the requirements of the new Act.
- The legislation is retrospective in effect. Where an employee has made a protected disclosure earlier this year or even last year, they may be entitled to the protection of the legislation.
- An important amendment from the Bill stage means that employees who claim they were unfairly dismissed as a result of making a protected disclosure can apply to the Circuit Court for interim relief, pending the hearing of their claim. If the Court is of the view that the dismissal resulted wholly or partly from the making of a protected disclosure, then the Court can make an order directing the reinstatement or reengagement of the employee pending the unfair dismissal hearing. This is a significant weapon for employees.
- The Act provides for anonymous reporting. This however may make subsequent investigations difficult for employers and require them to take appropriate advice to ensure they can comply with the principles of natural justice in conducting such investigations.
A more in depth analysis of the Act will follow in our next bulletin.