Most firms lack whistleblower channels despite looming law

Two-thirds of organisations in Ireland still have no channels in place to allow whistleblowers to make secure disclosures about wrongdoing in their places of work. That’s despite impending legislation that will require them.

survey by law firm Mason Hayes & Curran of human resources professionals found that 37pc of respondents have experience of whistleblowing in their organisations within the past five years.

Despite most not having a special channel in place for the making of protected disclosures, 83pc of respondents do have a workplace policy in relation to such disclosures.

While employers in the public sector are already required to have a policy or process in place for whistleblowers, private sector employers are not.

However, that will change under new legislation that’s being introduced.

The Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill was published last February and is expected to become law before the Dáil’s summer recess. It will transpose the EU Whistleblowing Directive into law. It will also extend the scope of the legislation to provide protection for volunteers, board members and job applicants.

Private sector organisations with 50 or more employees will be required to establish formal channels and procedures for their employees to make protected disclosures. This will be monitored and enforced by the Inspectorate of the Workplace Relations Commission.

Employers with fewer than 250 workers will have a derogation until 2023 before they have to adhere to the legislation.

Elizabeth Ryan, a partner at Mason Hayes & Curran, said that the new legislation is “very prescriptive” and sets out obligations for private sector employers to have a disclosure channel in place for people to report wrongdoings.

“I think the disclosure channels, for workers to raise concerns internally, will be the area of greatest challenge for employers under the new legislation,” she said. “. If you have more than 250 employees, once the Bill is enacted, you will have an obligation to have an internal disclosure channel policy in place very quickly, if not immediately.”

She pointed out that the channels for whistleblowers need to operate in a secure manner, and ensure adherence to all GDPR requirements.

“The protection of confidentiality and of the information being reported is paramount,” he added. “The identity of the whistleblower – called a Reporting Person under the Bill – cannot be disclosed without his or her permission.”

Employers and prescribed persons who receive protected disclosures will be required to acknowledge them and follow-up on the allegations made and give feedback to the reporting person within three months.

“Not only must employers diligently follow up, but you must be able to demonstrate that you have diligently followed up,” noted Melanie Crowley, head of employment and benefits at Mason Hayes & Curran.

“This might not always necessitate an investigation, but it is one of the steps that should be considered,” she added.

A new Office of the Protected Disclosures Commissioner is being established within the Office of the Ombudsman to support the new legislation.

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