The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr Michael McGrath TD, today, Wednesday 9th November, published interim guidance for public sector employers and prescribed persons on the handling of reports made to them under the Protected Disclosures Act.
The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 provides for a framework of statutory protections for whistleblowers in Ireland. The Act has been substantially overhauled by the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act 2022, which was signed into law in July. The new legislation comes into operation on 1 January 2023.
The Act will, among other things, require public sector employers and prescribed persons to revise and update their procedures and channels for receiving protected disclosures. In particular, the Act requires that protected disclosures be acknowledged and diligently followed-up on and that feedback be given to the reporting person. The new guidance is intended to support public bodies in meeting their obligations in this regard.
Minister McGrath said:
“This guidance will greatly assist public bodies in making the necessary preparations to get ready for the changes to the Act in the New Year. It reflects not only the new requirements of the amended legislation but also takes on board a lot of feedback my Department has received in relation to the operation of the legislation over the past eight years.
“While this guidance is aimed primarily at the public sector, those private sector employers that will be required to establish internal reporting channels for their staff under the new legislation may also find some of the material in the guidance helpful”.
Notes for Editors
The Protected Disclosures Act (“the Act”) protects workers in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors from retaliation if they speak up about wrongdoing in the workplace. Workers can report wrongdoing internally to their employer or externally to a third party, such as a prescribed person. Persons who make protected disclosures (sometimes referred to as “whistleblowers”) are protected by this law. This means they should not be treated unfairly or lose their job because they have made a protected disclosure.
The Act has been amended by the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act 2022. The new legislation comes into operation on 1 January 2023.
All public sector employers are required to have formal internal channels and procedures for their workers to make protected disclosures. Under the new legislation, this requirement will also apply to private sector employers with 250 or more employees from 1 January 2023 and to employers with 50 or more employees from 17 December 2023.
The amended Act also requires persons prescribed by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to establish external reporting channels to receive protected disclosures from workers in the sectors they regulate or supervise.
The new legislation requires that these internal and external channels provide for acknowledgement of all reports within 7 days; diligent follow-up of all reports received; and the provision of feedback to the reporting person.
Section 21(1) of the Act, as amended, provides that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform may issue guidance to assist public bodies in the performance of their functions under the Act.
The guidance issued today is intended to help public sector employers and prescribed persons in understanding the requirements of the Act as regards getting these internal and external channels established by commencement on 1 January.
The new guidance is informed not only by the new requirements of the amended Act but also by the experiences with the operation of the Act communicated to the Department through various fora, including the public consultations on the 2018 Statutory Review of the Act and in the course of preparing the, now enacted, amending legislation.
This interim guidance will be reviewed in the New Year with a view to issuing full formal statutory guidance in the first quarter of 2023.