The Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill will enhance rights for whistle-blowers and will create new obligations for employers. The Bill when enacted will transpose the EU Whistleblowing Directive (Directive (EU) 2019/1937).
The existing Irish legislation on whistleblowing (The Protected Disclosures Act 2014) creates protections for employees who report wrongdoing in their workplace. It prevents employers from penalising such workers. The new law goes further by extending the categories of people who will be protected by the legislation. Shareholders, board members, interns, volunteers and job-applicants will gain whistle-blower protections.
The protections will be enhanced in civil proceedings with the burden of proof requiring employers to prove that any act of penalisation was not by reason of the protected disclosure. As with other reversals of the burden of proof, this is likely to be difficult for employers so they will have to thread very carefully if an employee has made a report of wrongdoing in the workplace.
Organisations with greater than fifty employees will be obliged to establish formal procedures to deal with protected disclosures (similar to current public sector requirements). Those who receive protected disclosures will be obliged to acknowledge receipt within seven days, and investigate the allegations in order to give feedback to the whistle-blower within three months. The feedback must include information on what action has been taken or will be taken to address the wrongdoing.
A new Office of the Protected Disclosures Commissioner will be created within the Office of the Ombudsman. It will have responsibility for directing protected disclosures to the most appropriate body, if the situation is unclear and in the case of disclosures relating to Government Ministers.
Criminal offences for employers will be created in relation to failure to establish reporting channels, penalisation of whistle-blowers, attempts to prevent a person from making a protected disclosure, taking vexatious litigation against whistle-blowers and wrongful disclosure of the identity of whistle-blowers.
Employers are always advised to proceed with caution when faced with a protected disclosure. The new legislation makes it even more important for employers to have proper procedures in place and to deal appropriately with all allegations of wrongdoing.
The above is provided for information purposes and is not intended as legal advice. We, at Fitzsimons Redmond LLP, would be happy to talk to you about preparing for or dealing with a protected disclosure. Please contact us on 01-676 3257.
By Lisa Quinn O’Flaherty
Partner at Fitzsimons Redmond LLP