Delayed New Whistleblowing Laws Move Closer to EnactmentPosted in : Supplementary Articles ROI on 31 May 2022 Issues covered:
The Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2022 was debated at length in Seanad Éireann last week.
Committee Stage was ordered for today Tuesday 31 May 2022.
The new Act will extend the protections afforded by the 2014 Act in several key aspects, including the requirement for employers to establish and maintain internal reporting channels and procedures for employees to make protected disclosures. Those channels and procedures will be subject to WRC inspections.
The Bill also broadens the definition of ‘worker’ – i.e. the person who can make a protected disclosure to include almost everyone associated with an employer, including volunteers, shareholders and job applicants.
A designated person in every organisation must follow a strict timeline for acknowledging, providing feedback and dealing with complaints.
The Bill broadens the definition of a relevant wrongdoing, reverses the burden of proof in alleged penalisation claims, and widens the scope for employees to seek interim relief to forms of penalisation other than dismissal.
And there will now be criminal penalties for penalisation in certain cases, including breaching the duty of confidentiality as regards the identity of a reporting person.
During the debate last week, Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Deputy Ossian Smyth addressed the Seanad and outlined many other amendments that the Bill make to the 2014 Act, such as:
- The establishment of the new office of the protected disclosures commissioner in the Office of the Ombudsman. In relation to the handling of disclosures made or transmitted to the commissioner, in the first instance, the commissioner shall attempt to identify either a prescribed person or another suitable person with the competence to follow up on the matter reported and transmit the report to said person for further action.
- Where a report is transmitted to a third party who is not subject to the requirement to have formal reporting channels, that person shall follow the standard rules as regards acknowledgement, follow-up and feedback.
- Section 16 obliges persons responsible for handling protected disclosures to keep the identity of reporting persons confidential, overhauling a similar provision in the principal Act.
- Section 17 introduces a new requirement to similarly keep confidential the identities of other persons named in a disclosure.
- Section 18 provides for the restriction of certain data subject access rights to prevent these rights being abused to out a whistleblower or to frustrate or to impede effective follow-up on a report.
There are many more new rules on this important issue and the State is already late with bringing the legislation into line with the Directive in relation to employers with 250 or more employees. Those employees should have had these increased protections from December 2021 and employers with less than 250 employers must comply from December 2023.
Event - New Whistleblowing Laws in Ireland
Join Legal Island and our whistleblowing experts at our online event on the 22 and 23 June.
We explain the changes to protected disclosure laws in Ireland and give you a chance to apply your knowledge in relation to various realistic scenarios. You can learn more here: https://www.legal-island.ie/events-ie/New-Whistleblowing-Laws-in-Ireland-2022/
Emmet Whelan is a Partner in the ByrneWallace LLP Employment team. Emmet advises on all aspects of employment law and in particular specialises in contentious employment matters and employee benefits.
Dr Lauren Kierans BL is a practising barrister and Lecturer in Law at Maynooth University where she lectures on whistleblowing law at undergraduate level, as well as a Professional Certificate.
Liam Ennis has over 30 years policing experience, investigating the most complex and serious crimes, and is a founder and director of The Debrief Group, an organisation focused on the delivery of professional, transparent investigations.
The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.