Introduction to the Irish ‘Protected Disclosures Act 2014’

The ‘Protected Disclosures Act 2014’, which became law in the Republic of Ireland on 15 July 2014, was depicted internationally as one of the most important and extensive whistleblowing legislations worldwide (Kavanagh, 2014). The act corresponds to the best-practice-recommendations for the protection of whistleblowers in the G20, OECD, United Nations and the Council of Europe (Dept. of Public Expenditure & Reform, 2013) and was initiated by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform under Brendan Howlin.The legislation aims to better protect employees who disclose ‘relevant’ information to maladministration, breaches, misconduct or wrongdoing in companies as long as it came to the attention of the worker in connection with his employment insignificant of the geographical occurrence of the wrongdoing. To qualify as ‘relevant’ information, a worker must reasonably believe that the disclosed information holds the probability to reveal one or more ‘relevant wrongdoings’.

Who and what is protected by the act

The law intends to protect all ‘workers’ which in this case covers employees, contractors, agency workers, members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces[1] and even volunteers from being penalised by their employer for uncovering any wrongdoing. The act does not allow the employer to exclude a corresponding liability contractually.The act provides a broad definition of wrongdoing[2], which includes the perpetration of a criminal offence or the probable perpetration of a criminal offence, the failure to comply with a legal obligation (excluding the workers contract of employment), the occurrence of a lapse in justice, health and safety breaches, environmental damage, unlawful or improper use of public monies, oppression, discrimination, gross negligence or gross management by or on behalf of a public body and the concealment or destruction of information relating to a relevant wrongdoing (Transparency International Ireland, 2014). Certainly, it is to be expected that considerable legal interpretations will be made by the courts and tribunals. However, it appears that the broad definition may prove problematic, even for a conscientious employer. For example, even small violations of health and safety or data protection regulations could lead to protected disclosures.

How a protected disclosure is made

To be protected under the provisions of the act, the worker must make the disclosure in accordance with the act to an employer, a prescribed person, a Minister, a legal adviser or in certain cases to a third party[3]. While the law has a “stepped disclosure system”, the worker is encouraged to raise any concern with his or her employer in the first instance, the act’s other channels are provided to be used when direct disclosure to an employer is inappropriate, undesirable or ineffective. In this context, the worker must explain that he was in good faith that the disclosed information is really true, that the disclosure was not for personal gain, and that in all circumstances it was reasonable for the worker to make the disclosure.
The act not only extends employees’ rights under the ‘Unfair Dismissals Acts, 1977 -2007’[4] to a compensation of up to five year’s remuneration, exceeding the normal maximum compensation of up to two years remuneration, for unfair dismissals based on a protected disclosure. Moreover, the act considers any dismissal arising from the making of a protected disclosure automatically unfair, and the qualifying service period for the Unfair Dismissals Act is not applicable. Furthermore the law gives protections and rights such as:
  • the prohibition of penalisation and the threatening with penalisation;
  • the immunity from civil actions for damages;
  • the right to file a lawsuit against any person who gave rise to damage to a person, because this person has rendered a disclosure;
  • if prosecuted for any offence prohibiting or restricting the disclosure of information it may be a defence that the disclosure was, or was reasonably believed to be a protected disclosure
  • a qualified right to anonymity;
  • if a reported wrongdoing proves wrong, the protection of the person who made the disclosure persists, unless it proves to be a deliberate misinformation;
In addition, an employee who is dismissed can apply to the Circuit Court within 21 days of dismissal for “interim relief” such as re-instatement which could mean an employer may have to pay an employee’s salary pending the outcome of the claim.


Under these aspects the arrangements of the law will have tremendous consequences on companies, employers, human resource departments and directors. It is necessary that employers become familiar with the new law and be aware of its possible consequences. They should urgently establish appropriate policies and amend their existing policies to meet the requirements of the new legislation. Supporting and promoting whistleblowing in the first place by promoting internal transparency, by having proper written policies in place and by having a plan how to deal with protected disclosures, may lead to employees reporting to their employer directly and therefore open doors for further investigation and discussion, and finally to avoid further legal issues.



[1] Section 3 Protected Disclosures Act, 2014

[2] Section 5 Subsections (3)(a)-(h) Protected Disclosures Act, 2014

[3] Sections 6-10 Protected Disclosures Act, 2014

[4] Section 11 Protected Disclosures Act, 2014