The Crucial ‘But For’ Test in Penalisation for Making a Protected Disclosure Cases

When you claim that you have been penalised for having made a protected disclosure under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 you need to be aware of a test you will need to pass if you are to succeed with your case.

Firstly, section 5 Protected Disclosures act 2014 sets out what is a protected disclosure for the purposes of the act.

Section 3 Protected Disclosures Act 2014 defines penalisation for the purposes of the act as follows:

“penalisation” means any act or omission that affects a worker to the worker’s detriment, and in particular includes—

(a) suspension, lay-off or dismissal,

(b) demotion or loss of opportunity for promotion,

(c) transfer of duties, change of location of place of work, reduction in wages or change in working hours,

(d) the imposition or administering of any discipline, reprimand or other penalty (including a financial penalty),

(e) unfair treatment,

(f) coercion, intimidation or harassment,

(g) discrimination, disadvantage or unfair treatment,

(h) injury, damage or loss, and

(i) threat of reprisal;

Section 12 Protected Disclosures Act 2014 provides the protection against penalisation for having made a protected disclosure as follows:

12. (1) An employer shall not penalise or threaten penalisation against an employee, or cause or permit any other person to penalise or threaten penalisation against an employee, for having made a protected disclosure.

The key thing to take from this to win your case is that you must prove you suffered the penalisation for having made the protected disclosure. ‘For’ is the key word as the Labour Court has held that if there are other reasons why you may have been penalised your claim under the protected disclosure act will fail.

The “but for” test

The Labour Court, in PDD 162 AIDAN & HENRIETTA MC GRATH PARTNERSHIP and ANNA MONAGHAN stated as follows:

The Court must now consider whether or not she was penalised for having made such a protected disclosure.

The Act is a new piece of legislation with limited case law, however, the provisions regarding penalisation are broadly similar to those provided in the Safety Health and Welfare Act, 2005. As this Court pointed out in O’Neill v Toni and Guy Blackrock Limited[2010] E.L.R. 21, it is clear from the language of Section 27 of the 2005 Act that in order to make out a complaint of penalisation it is necessary for a complainant to establish that the detriment of which he or she complains was imposed “for” having committed one of the acts protected by Section 27(3) of the 2005 Act. Thus the detriment giving rise to the complaint must have been incurred because of, or in retaliation for, the Complainant having committed a protected act. This suggests that where there is more than one causal factor in the chain of events leading to the detriment complained of the commission of a protected act must be an operative cause in the sense that “but for” the Complainant having committed the protected act he or she would not have suffered the detriment. This involves a consideration of the motive or reasons which influenced the decision maker in imposing the impugned detriment.

The Court is of the view that the Toni and Guy case involved penalisation under the 2005 Act, nevertheless, the general principle enunciated in that case remains valid in the case under consideration.

You will note that the Labour Court requires you to prove that the penalisation complained of would not have occurred but for the protected disclosure and if there was other possible causes of the penalisation a look at the motives which influenced the decision maker to penalise will have to be looked at.

This is known as the “but for” test.


It is not enough to show you have made a protected disclosure and have been penalised; you must prove you have been penalised for making the protected disclosure.

If there is other possible explanations for the penalisation the motives of the employer will have to be examined but you will have to show that ‘but for’ the protected disclosure you would not have been penalised.