The Supreme Court has made a critically important decision in a case involving a meat factory worker in Baranya v Rosderra Meats Group Limited  IESC 77
The worker in this case was employed in a meat processing factory. The employee, Mr Baranya, was a Romanian butcher and had made a complaint to the Health and Safety officer of his employer. He did not want to continue doing ‘scoring work’ as he was in pain.
Mr Baranya eventually walked off the production line and was dismissed for gross misconduct. He brought a claim to the WRC for unfair dismissal for having made a protected disclosure.
He lost at the WRC as it was held that personal grievances which are specific to an individual are not protected disclosures, merely grievances.
There is a Code of Practice which was relied upon by the WRC and the Labour Court. The Code of Practice on the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 stated that employment grievances are not protected disclosures.
The case was appealed to the Labour Court who agreed with the WRC and held that Mr Baranya simply had a personal grievance, not a protected disclosure. The Labour Court noted that there could be some overlap between a grievance and a protected disclosure. But it held that his complaint did not disclose any wrongdoing by the employer and therefore was not a protected disclosure.
Mr Baranya appealed to the High Court who came to the same conclusion as the WRC and the Labour Court. The High Court observed that the employee had failed to link his sore arm to any particular wrongdoing of the employer and there was, therefore, no relevant wrongdoing.
Supreme Court decision
The Supreme Court had a different view. It found that two of the eight relevant wrongdoings set out in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 are relevant to Mr Baranya’s case:
- A failure to comply with a legal obligation and
- A danger to the health and safety of any individual
The Supreme Court held that a purely personal complaint dealing with workplace health and safety could constitute a protected disclosure. Complaints about health and safety in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 were not restricted to complaints relating to other employees alone but could relate to a complaint about an employee’s own personal safety.
It also held that the wrongdoing does not have to amount to a breach of a legal obligation. This means that many complaints made by employees, which are personal to them, could constitute protected disclosures as envisaged by the Protected Disclosures Act 2014.
The Supreme Court also commented that the Code of Practice erroneously misstates the law and did not accurately reflect the primary legislation, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014.
The Supreme Court allowed the appeal and sent the case back to the Labour Court for determination.
This Supreme Court decision is authority now for the proposition that a purely personal matter concerning health and safety can be regarded as a protected disclosure, depending on the circumstances. This is a significant change from the position to date.