Blowing the Whistle
Who is a whistleblower?
A whistleblower is anyone who reports or has reported insider knowledge of illegal activities occurring in an organisation. Whistleblowers can be employees, clients, contractors, suppliers, or any individual who becomes aware of illegal business activities. Activities which whistleblowers generally disclose are in relation to corruption, fraud, bullying, health and safety violation, cover-ups and discrimination.
Whistleblowers can be of invaluable assistance to government departments and regulators in particular, in providing crucial information that can mitigate risks to the delivery of public services. The vast majority of legitimate whistleblowers do so out of their perceived civic duty to stop or prevent suspected wrongdoing, which if not penalised or terminated could be damaging to their fellow citizens.
Whistleblowers often face punishments from their employer, who may suffer reputational damage as a result of the whistle being blown, or from fellow employees who may have been involved in the illicit actions. In some cases, reprisals become so severe that they turn into persecution.
Protection of whistleblowers is an important focus for the legal system, as is incentivising whistle blowing when there are many reasons stopping employees from doing so.
The O’Higgins Report
The O’Higgins Report, which was published in 2016, examined various claims made by whistleblower Garda Sgt. Maurice McCabe of alleged Garda corruption in the Cavan-Monaghan Division.
Garda McCabe made various allegations of Garda malpractice, including but not limited to, the cancelling of penalty points. Many, though not all, of his accusations were found to be well-grounded in an investigation carried out by Judge Kevin O’Higgins. Garda McCabe was found to be subject to a smear campaign orchestrated by senior Garda officials. Judge Higgins in his report commended Garda McCabe for his endeavours and found he had “performed a genuine public service at considerable personal cost” and “acted out of genuine and legitimate concerns”.
The Protected Disclosures Act, 2014
The primary legislation aimed at protecting whistleblowers is the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014. The Act provides for comprehensive whistleblowing legislation across all sectors.
It provides for redress for employees who are dismissed or otherwise penalised for having reported possible wrongdoing in the workplace.
Under the Act, you make a protected disclosure if you are a worker and you disclose relevant information in a particular way. Information is relevant if it came to your attention in connection with your work and you reasonably believe that it tends to show wrongdoing.
Wrongdoing is widely defined in the Act and can range from the commission of a criminal offence to damaging the environment. The protections granted to whistleblowers under the Act as employees go much further than current employment legislation.
The protection of whistleblowers is an important focus for the legal system, as is incentivising whistle blowing when there are many reasons stopping employees from doing so. The onus lies with all organisations and employers to ensure their employees who are attempting to do the right thing in difficult circumstances, are adequately protected and commended, rather than ostracised and demeaned.
All employers should adopt a whistleblowing policy that encourages employees to draw attention to wrongdoing or risky behaviour. In the case of legal action being taken against a company as a result of internal wrongdoing, having and promoting a strong whistleblowing policy may act in part as a legal defence.
Should you have any queries in relation to the above, please contact Ronan Hynes, Partner in the Litigation Dispute Resolution Department at 061 432 348 or by email at [email protected].