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Protected Disclosure and Penalisation

In the recent case of Conor Williamson v David Stone and Carol Stone t/a Ashton Dog Pound and Warden Service ADJ00023234 dated 20th September 2022, the employee (complainant) was awarded €18,000 in respect of being penalised for raising a protected disclosure or “whistleblowing” at work concerning alleged animal welfare and pharmaceutical offences.

In this case the complainant alleged and reported the matter to his employer who did not respond. The complainant ultimately reported the matter to An Garda Siochana. Thereafter the complainant was the subject of an investigation and disciplinary procedure in respect of social media posts and refusal to do “on call” duties. He was also subject to a number of complaints of bullying against him. The complainant was suspended on foot of the bullying complaints.

The Adjudicator noted:

“Having very carefully examined the totality of the evidence in the within case and based on the testimony provided by the complainant which I found to be cogent and convincing; I find that the complainant has established that he was penalised for having made a protected disclosure with regard to animal welfare and veterinary pharmaceutical offences at the respondent organisation contrary to the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014……Having examined the evidence and heard oral testimony, I am satisfied that the complainant was subjected to a spurious investigation and disciplinary process and a suspension of work which was not warranted which amounts to penalisation under the Act. In relation to the complaint of bullying and harassment by a number of colleagues against the complainant; upon review of said statements, I consider that they are contrived and have the hallmarks of an orchestrated campaign by management to intimidate and bully the complainant. It would appear to me that the statements had been rehearsed and I note that a number of these same staff retracted their statements shortly after making them…….It is noteworthy that the respondent offered the complainant a severance package comprising a non-disclosure agreement in an effort to exit the complainant out of the organisation”

The Adjudicator was particularly critical of the complaints made by colleagues which were found to be orchestrated and which appeared to be rehearsed. The case is a very useful summary of the law and should be read by both employers and employees alike who should be aware of the broad definition of “penalisation” under the Act and to ensure that workers are not treated less favourably simply by raising concerns or whistleblowing at work.

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