In July 2022, the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act 2022 was signed into Irish law. This Act gives effect to an EU Directive regarding the protection of whistleblowers and serves to amend and extend the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. This Act has made several substantial changes to the laws relating to whistleblowing in Ireland, generally expanding both the protections available to whistleblowers and the responsibilities imposed on companies regarding whistleblowing.
New Definitions of Protected Disclosures
The Amendment Act significantly expands the range of activities or acts of wrongdoing which are relevant to the purposes of the act. Whereas the 2014 Act describes a set of practices which may be relevant, the Amendment Act provides a broad list of areas in which, should an individual consider wrongdoing to be occurring, a Protected Disclosure may be made.
The Amendment Act has also clarified and expanded the types of individuals who can claim its protections when making a Protected Disclosure. The 2014 Act provides a definition of the types of “workers” who can claim the Act’s protections; the Amendment Act expands this definition both by adding new types of workers and also by clarifying that the information subject to a Protected Disclosure need only to have come to light in a “work-related” context.
Protections when making a Protected Disclosure
Under the Amendment Act, the range of protections available to individuals making a Protected Disclosure has also expanded. In particular, the Amendment Act has made extensive changes to the laws relating to any penalties an individual who has made a Protected Disclosure may have suffered. The 2014 Act provided a range of activities which it considered to be unfair penalisations of individuals who have made a Protected Disclosure; the Amendment Act has increased this list of penalties to include acts such as the withholding of training, negative performance assessment, harm to the individual’s reputation, and others.
Significantly, the Amendment Act also places the burden of proof on employers to prove that, should an individual who has made a Protected Disclosure suffer any of these penalties, that the penalty has no connection to the Protected Disclosure.
Requirements of Organisations under the Amendment Act
Under the Amendment Act, any organisation with 50 or more employees is obliged to develop internal reporting channels and procedures to facilitate whistleblowing for their staff. These obligations extend to private section organisations. A provision in the Amendment Act states that, for employers of between 50 and 249 employees, all obligations under the Act will not come into effect until December 2023.
The Amendment Act provides specifications regarding how these reporting channels should operate. These specifications are quite extensive and include timeframes for responding to Protected Disclosures, the appointment of an appropriate individual to investigate the Disclosure, provision of clear information to staff regarding the operation of these channels, as well as effort to ensure the confidentiality of individuals who make Protected Disclosures.