There has recently been a significant legal development on whistleblowing in the workplace. The Supreme Court Judgment in the case of Baranya v Rosderra Meats Group (2021) has clarified that an individual raising a personal grievance can also attract the protections of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014.
An employee of Rosderra Meats Group, Mr Baranya, brought a case against his employer because he claims to have been dismissed as a result of his whistleblowing.
In 2015, Mr Baranya communicated to his employer that he was in pain, allegedly due to the work required of him in his employer’s premises.
Firstly, Mr Baranya lodged a WRC claim whereby he alleged that he was dismissed on foot of making a Protected Disclosure. A Protected Disclosure (PD) is a communication by a worker which ordinarily points to a relevant wrongdoing by an employer. The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (the 2014 Act) was enacted to protect employees who highlight potential relevant wrongdoing by their employer in the workplace. It is illegal for an employer to use an employee’s communication of a PD as a basis for dismissal. The question therefore in the first instance, was whether Mr Baranya’s communication to his employer could be classified as a PD.
The 2015 Code of Practice
In contrast to the 2014 Act, the 2015 Code of Practice (the Code) provides that a grievance is a matter specific to the worker, including his or her working conditions. The Code also provides that “it is important that a worker understands the distinction between a protected disclosure and a grievance”. This is precisely the argument that Mr Baranya’s employer sought to make – that this matter was simply a grievance, and, as a result, it was not a PD. The Labour Court and subsequently the High Court agreed, this was a matter most suitably described as a personal grievance and it was not a PD.
The Supreme Court Decision
Mr Baranya appealed to the Supreme Court and Mr. Justice Hogan examined the 2014 Act in detail to determine whether a purely personal complaint could be a PD. While the Code draws a distinction between Protected Disclosures and personal grievances, no such distinction exists in the 2014 Act. Part 5(3)(d) of the Act reaffirms that a relevant wrongdoing in the context of a PD can be something whereby “the health or safety of any individual has been, is being or is likely to be endangered”. Thus, Mr. Justice Hogan found that in principle, a complaint made by an employee that his own personal health was at risk by being required to work in a particular manner can be a PD.
“It is clear that purely personal complaints in relation to the issues of workplace health or safety can in fact be regarded as coming within the rubric of protected disclosures for the purposes of s.5(2) and s. 5(3) of the 2014 Act.”
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About the Authors
Breda practises in both Employment and Commercial Law and is Partner and Head of the Employment Law team at Hayes solicitors. Breda has trained and qualified as a mediator with the UK based, internationally renowned Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR). Breda practices as a mediator of commercial, employment, boardroom, charity trustee and shareholder disputes.
Eddie is a solicitor in the Employment Law team and advises both employees and employers on a range of HR and employment law issues, in relation to contentious and non-contentious matters, including employment contracts and workplace policies, compromise arrangements and redundancies, industrial relations matters, unfair dismissals and disciplinary matters.