Two years since the enactment of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (the “Act”), the first award for penalisation in respect of having made a protected disclosure has been granted by the Labour Court. An award of €17,500 was granted to a care home assistant, after she made what was held on appeal to be a “protected disclosure” in relation to the alleged abuse of patients in Aras Chois Fharriage nursing home. In this case, the employee alleged that she was penalised when she was suspended after raising concerns with the nursing home’s matron.
A “protected disclosure” means the disclosure of relevant information, which in the reasonable belief of the worker, tends to show one or more relevant wrongdoings which came to the attention of the worker in connection with their employment. For the purpose of the Act, a “relevant wrongdoing” includes “health and safety threats”. We looked at what constituted a protected disclosure in more detail in our earlier blogs (Long-awaited legislation for the Protection of Whistle-blowers has finally arrived and Protected Disclosures).
The employer in this matter believed that Ms Monaghan’s complaint was merely a grievance however the Labour Court held that, as the complaint related to "alleged health and safety risks to residents", it fell within the meaning of a "protected disclosure". It further held that there was a causal connection between Ms Monaghan making the complaint and the suspension, and therefore the suspension constituted penalisation for having made a protected disclosure.
The recent Lifeline Ambulance Service decision also saw the first interim injunction granted by the Circuit Court under the Act. The Act contains an unusual provision which allows an employee who has been dismissed for having made a protected disclosure to apply to the Circuit Court for interim relief. In the Lifeline case, two employees were made redundant after allegedly making a protected disclosure. The employees sought, and were granted, interim relief in the Circuit Court. In this case the Circuit Court ordered the Ambulance Service to continue the employees’ salary pending the hearing of their unfair dismissal claim in the Workplace Relations Commission.
When the legislation was first introduced, it was anticipated that a deluge of cases under the Act would follow. While that did not materialise, the latest trends suggest that cases under the Act are certainly on the increase and employers are advised to put in place appropriate whistleblowing procedures to mitigate against the risks of any such claims.