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Protected Disclosures Whistleblowing

Employees Getting Interim Relief Orders under the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014

 

whiltleblower-legislation

Let’s be honest.

The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 struck fear into the hearts of employers when it first came into law.

Five years’ salary as an award for an unfair dismissal?

Interim relief orders in the Circuit Court preventing dismissals?

Eye watering stuff. How has it panned out?

Let’s take a look at the interim relief order, effectively an injunction.

The first interim relief order under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 was granted in September, 2016. The case involved two Lifeline Ambulance Service workers who were made redundant.

They were granted an order in the Circuit Court directing the continued payment of their salary pending the outcome of a claim for unfair dismissal which they had brought to the WRC (Workplace Relations Commission). They had brought claims to the WRC, on the basis that they were unfairly dismissed for making a protected disclosure to the Revenue Commissioners.

The employees contended that they were dismissed for making a protected disclosure to the Revenue Commissioners in January, 2016, and their dismissal was connected to this.

The Circuit Court did not find that they were dismissed for whistleblowing or making a protected disclosure, but found that the employees had substantial grounds for claiming this.

This was enough-this means that the employees had met the probative burden-the burden of proof-placed on them in the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014.

Because all they had to show was “substantial grounds” for claiming a connection between the dismissal and the protected disclosure.

The Protected Disclosures act, 2014 is a strong piece of legislation with a wide range of remedies for employees, one of which is this interim relief order preventing a dismissal pending a claim for unfair dismissal for having made a protected disclosure. (Read more about protected disclosures and whistleblowing in this article).

This application for interim relief, essentially an injunction, must be made within 21 days of the date of dismissal, and the argument must be that the dismissal was carried out “wholly or mainly for having made a protected disclosure”.

If this Court finds that there are “substantial grounds for contending that the dismissal results wholly or mainly” from the making of a protected disclosure the Court can order the reinstatement or reengagement of the worker with full salary.

The Court in this case ordered the employees’ salaries to be paid until the hearing of their case at the WRC.

An employee can be awarded up to 5 years’ salary if he is successful in a WRC claim for unfair dismissal by virtue of a protected disclosure.

If you are an employer this interim relief/injunction prior to a WRC hearing, and then a potential 5 years’ salary award against you is clearly eye watering stuff.

Another Interim Relief Order Followed

In Catherine Kelly v Alienvault Ireland Limited and Alien Vault inc Ms Kelly was also granted interim relief under the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014.

Ms Kelly, an office manager, made some complaints to her employer about health and safety issues in the office workplace. The employer dismissed her and claimed that the decision to dismiss her was made some days before her complaints.

Cork Circuit Court, however, found that she had substantial grounds for claiming that her dismissal was linked to her protected disclosure and granted her an interim relief order preventing the dismissal and keeping her on full pay until her case was heard in full by the WRC.

An Unsuccessful Application

In Dan Philpott v Marymount University Hospital and Hospice Mr. Philpott was seeking an injunction preventing his dismissal under the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014.

He had commenced employment in the hospital in May 2014 on a 5 year fixed term contract.

Mr. Philpott was told, however, that his contract was going to be terminated in December, 2014 due to interpersonal difficulties between him and other staff.

Mr. Philpott sought an order in the Circuit Court preventing his dismissal on the grounds that he had made protected disclosures. The Circuit Court, however, recognised that Mr. Philpott would not have the necessary 12 months’ service for an unfair dismissal claim under the Unfair Dismissals act, 1977-2007, and found also that he had failed to meet the threshold of proof-substantial grounds-in contending this dismissal was connected to a protected disclosure.

In fact, the Court held that his disclosures did not constitute protected disclosures as defined by the Act.

It is worth noting that in all these cases the employee is not obliged to mark or label his disclosure as a protected disclosure for the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014 to apply.

The employee’s motive is also irrelevant when it comes to determine whether it is a protected disclosure or not.

Takeaway

This act has serious potential consequences for employers, particularly if an employee is dismissed, for whatever reason, after (and not necessarily immediately after) making a protected disclosure.

For employees, it is an extremely useful weapon for the employee can now obtain in the Circuit Court what is essentially an injunction preventing his dismissal pending an unfair dismissal claim.