Protected Disclosures Act (2014) brings radical change to whistleblowing policies for public sector bodies and private sector businesses
In short the Act provides legal protection for workers who disclose wrongdoing is the public, private and non-profit sectors. It is far more robust than any legislation which preceded it, with the protections extend beyond the usual definition of employees to cover the likes of contractors, former employees, trainees and interns too. Another interesting aspect of the new legislation is that retrospective disclosures may also be made, meaning that a disclosure made before the date of the act (15th July 2014) may still be protected. It’s not yet clear how far back this cover will go.
Impact on Employers
All businesses should have in place a clearly stated reporting policy and set of procedures (usually outlined in the staff handbook) that employees can follow if they believe any relevant wrongdoings have occurred or are occurring in connection with their employment. These businesses will need to review their existing policies to ensure they fulfil the requirements of the Protected Disclosures Act, while shoring up any gaps that may leave them exposed.
As an employer it is in your best interest to introduce these new policies and educate your staff on them. By encouraging workers to come to you with any information they believe to indicate relevant wrongdoings, you are creating an environment where staff feel comfortable to voice their concerns, while limiting the potential for such matters to become external and out of your control. Should workers feel that they cannot go to their employer to make a disclosure, they can go beyond the workplace if they can satisfy certain criteria. This may include the media, government ministers or legal advisors.
Penalties for Employers
If an employee is dismissed for making a protected disclosure, they can be awarded compensation of up to five years' remuneration for unfair dismissal. This is a significant leap from standard employment law awards, which are subject to a two year cap. Also, an employee who claims to have been dismissed or threatened with dismissal for having made a protected disclosure can apply to the Circuit Court to restrain the dismissal.
Developing and Implementing Your Whistleblowing Policy
While the intricacies of every business must be taken into account, here are six tips that apply to every business in developing and implementing their whistleblowing policy:
1. It should provide a step by step guide for employees, stating clearly that whistleblowing concerns are distinguished from worker’s grievances, .
2. It should provide examples of relevant disclosers (as outlined in the Act), illustrating the types of concerns workers may raise.
3. It should state the various disclosure avenues available to employees, should they feel that unable to voice their concerns to management, and the various criteria the must meet in each circumstance.
4. It should be clearly expressed that the organisation take malpractice very seriously and the identity and confidentiality of the whistleblower will be respected.
5. Once the policy has been developed, employers should utilise whatever communications tools – intranet, newsletter, departmental meetings, etc. - they have available to inform employees and address any concerns they may have.
6. Training should be provided to those responsible for receiving disclosures from workers.
The contents of this article are necessarily expressed in broad terms and limited to general information rather than detailed analyses or legal advice. Specialist professional advice should always be obtained to address legal and other issues arising in specific contexts.