Business association raises fears about ‘abuse’ of Protected Disclosures Act

An Irish business association has raised concerns about potential “abuse” by workers of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014.

The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) raised concerns about a Workplace Relations Commission case in which an employee retrospectively invoked the Protected Disclosure legislation in an unfair dismissal case.

The worker was dismissed from a plant-hire business for gross misconduct, but later claimed that a concern about overtime payment he had raised during his employment amounted to a protected disclosure.

ISME has also received a report from a company which says it uncovered the “coaching” of one of its employees by a solicitor, seeking to portray a grievance situation as a protected disclosure.

The employer claim it found out that the solicitor encouraged the employee to “create a situation” where a workplace grievance issue could be subsequently be presented as a personal injury claim.

The solicitor allegedly also advised the employee that the available financial remedies from any resulting dismissal were more than three times higher if the employee could demonstrate they were dismissed over a protected disclosure.

Neil McDonnell, CEO of ISME, said: “Employees already enjoy a high level of protection under the Unfair Dismissals Act, with dismissals being legally regarded as unfair unless and until the employer can demonstrate otherwise. It would be against both the spirit and letter of the Protected Disclosures Act if it was used to misrepresent or falsify normal employment relations procedures within businesses.”

He added: “We ask the WRC Director General Oonagh Buckley to ensure her officers remain alert to the tactic of inappropriate or vexatious use of the Protected Disclosure Act in WRC hearings.

“If a pattern emerges suggesting this legislation is being abused in employment law cases, ISME will ask Minister Fitzgerald to review the circumstances of its application.”