Whistleblower legislation will protect contract workers

 

LEGISLATION to be published in draft form this week will offer “protected disclosure” to agency workers and contract employees to ensure they do not suffer reprisals from their temporary employers after exposing wrongdoing.

The proposed law is designed to offer whistleblowers the same protections as exist in the UK where, for example, a nurse employed by an agency can raise concerns about malpractice in a care home.

The aim is to safeguard the employment position of whistleblowers by removing the risk that individuals in possession of information that should be disclosed in the public interest might be discouraged because they could be penalised by the contractor who employs them.

The programme for government committed the Coalition to introducing whistleblower legislation “to protect public servants who expose maladministration by Ministers or others”. The proposed legislation will also cover private sector workers. A memo has gone to Government and, subject to approval at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin will publish the heads of a Bill this week.

To qualify for protection under the proposed legislation, a disclosure of information rather than simply an allegation is required. A so-called “stepped” disclosure regime will encourage employees to whistleblow internally in the first instance with no fear of victimisation.

However, they may approach an external regulator and possibly the media or public representatives if they are not satisfied the matter has been investigated appropriately.

The proposed legislation will also aim to provide safeguards in relation to the identity of individuals who provide confidential information to politicians. The Supreme Court instructed Mr Howlin to divulge the name of a person who gave him information regarding allegations of Garda corruption in Donegal in 2000. The source identified himself, however.

Speaking in the Dáil last month, Mr Howlin said: “I have more than a passing interest in the issue of whistleblowing, having had to traipse to the High Court and the Supreme Court to protect the rights of individuals to give information to members of the House on allegations of wrongdoing. I know how stressful this can be.”

Special rules will be required for disclosures relating to highly sensitive, secret information relating to national security and intelligence matters. It is likely that measures will be required to align the operation of the legislation with the Official Secrets Act, which the Government has committed to amending.

In line with the British legislation, a broad definition of the term “employee” will be adopted to include agency workers or contractors. The UK legislation also offers protection, for example, to a worker in an auditing firm who raises a concern with a client.