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Advice for Irish workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

  1. Introduction
  2. COVID-19 related concerns
    1. Official Guidance on controlling COVID-19
    2. Making an internal report
    3. Raising a concern or seeking advice from a State agency or a regulator
    4. Raising a concern externally
  3. Delays in dealing with existing or new Protected Disclosures
  4. If you’re worried about speaking up
  5. Workplace Relations Commission and Court hearings
  6. Reporting fraud and other abuses
  7. List of Healthcare-Related Prescribed Persons
  8. Additional resources

Introduction*

The COVID-19 crisis has created a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty for us all. Our first priority is to help control the virus and keep everyone safe and we advise everyone to follow the HSE’s guidance on protecting yourself and others.

It’s for this reason that we need people to speak up and be listened to if they have concerns about health and safety, fraud or other types of wrongdoing in the workplace.

This might be made more difficult because your employer’s attention and resources are diverted to managing the current healthcare crisis.

But you should know that that there are some legal protections in place if you have concerns about risks to the health and safety of you, your colleagues, patients or customers.

You can also seek free confidential advice and support.

Transparency International Ireland operates the Speak Up Helpline (1800 844 866) and can offer access to free legal advice from our partners the Transparency Legal Advice Centre for workers raising concerns in the public interest. 

Our free Speak Up Safely Guide provides advice on the steps you might need to take when making a protected disclosure. Our Speak Up Safely video also provides a brief overview of how the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (Ireland’s main ‘whistleblowing’ law) works.

Advice for Irish employers during the COVID-19 pandemic is also available here

You might find the information below useful if/when you want to report a workplace concern during this pandemic.

*This guide is for general information only. It is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. We strongly recommend that those seeking to ‘blow the whistle’ obtain legal advice before taking any action.

COVID-19 related concerns

Official Guidance on controlling COVID-19

Official guidance on managing COVID-19 related risks includes the Government's Return to Work Safely Protocol, and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) Guidance for Employers and Employees

More guidance on controlling COVID-19 is included in the Government’s announcement on public health measures and on the HSE website. Separate guidance on employment rights during the pandemic is published on the Citizens Information website.

Making an internal report

Under the Government's new protocol on returning to work safely, you should be able to report your concern about how your employer is managing the risk of COVID-19 to a dedicated worker representative who can bring it to the attention of management. In the event that your employer has not appointed a worker representative, you should be able to share information with management directly.

If you work for a public body, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 also allows you to report to the Government Minister who has responsibility for that organisation. However, we suggest that, where possible you report COVID-19 related concerns directly to your worker representative/employer in the first instance.

If you are unsure about who you should report to, check your employer’s COVID-19 procedures/health and safety policy or protected disclosures (whistleblowing/speak up) policy – either of them should name the person responsible for acting on your concern.

It is always best to follow your employer’s whistleblowing/speak up policy if possible and many will ask that you put your concerns in writing. But if you can’t make your disclosure in writing we advise that you keep a record of what, when and to whom it was said.

You should not have to blame or identify anyone when reporting a concern – it should be enough to point to the relevant health and safety risk to see it acted upon.

Raising a concern or seeking advice from a State agency or regulator

If you believe raising your health-related concern directly with your employer will be ineffective, or you don’t receive a response to your concern or it is not acted upon, you may be able to make your report to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

If you work for the HSE or an agency under its aegis, you might also be able raise your concern directly with the HSE Office of the Authorised Person. You can also report concerns about standards in health and social care services to the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

Agencies that can receive health-related disclosures are listed below. A full list of agencies that can receive protected disclosures is available at

You can also seek advice from our Speak Up Helpline, your trade union (if you are a member) or a solicitor at any time on the most suitable agency for your report.

Raising a concern externally

We advise that you report your concerns to your employer where possible so that they have the chance to address those concerns promptly. If you think that your disclosure needs to be made to someone other than your employer or a State agency/regulator, you may be legally entitled to report to a TD, journalist or relevant civil society organisation.

Please note that you will have to be able to show that choosing to make your disclosure in this way was the best option available in the circumstances and this may depend on the sector in which you work. For this reason, we suggest that you write down the reasons for reporting externally in advance and seek legal advice (via the Speak Up Helpline or directly from a solicitor) before you make your disclosure.

For more information on reporting externally see page 11 of the Speak Up Safely Guide.

Delays in dealing with existing or new Protected Disclosures

There may be some delay in assessing, investigating or acting on non-healthcare related concerns during the crisis. However, this should not mean that you can’t make a protected disclosure or seek an investigation and/or action to address reprisal against you. There are steps your employer can take to make sure that any concerns you make will be acted on.

If your employer is a member of the Integrity at Work programme please let us know when you contact the Speak Up Helpline so that we are better able to advise you on what measures they have in place.

If you’re worried about speaking up

If you believe that you might suffer in some way because you have made a disclosure, we suggest that you document any evidence of your experience and the reasons why you believe you might suffer some harm. You might email these to yourself (to and from your personal email account), a trade union official or solicitor or just take a note in a journal. For more advice on dealing with or preventing reprisal see pages 14, 22 and 28 of the Speak Up Safely Guide.

If you prefer to remain anonymous or you are worried about confidentiality, you can use a secure email service such as ProtonMail to share your concern. Whether you use a pseudonym or your real name, you can ask that the recipient withhold information that might identify you. Either way, you should make it easy for the recipient of your disclosure to maintain contact so that they can ask more questions to help them assess your concern. For more information on protecting your identity see page 27 of the Speak Up Safely Guide.

Workplace Relations Commission and Court hearings

The WRC has postponed all Adjudication Hearings, Conciliation Meetings and Face- to -Face Mediations, until Sunday 19th April 2020. The WRC will continue to issue Decisions to parties electronically.

It is still possible to submit complaints for adjudication using the online complaint form however. Please bear in mind that there may be strict timeframes within which you can bring a claim to the WRC. More information on how to make a complaint is available on the WRC website.

The Labour Court has introduced new rules and guidelines regarding appeals. Appeals to the Labour Court, (except appeals of Equal Status Complaints, which are made to the Circuit Court), must be initiated by notice in writing. You can send an email notification to appeals@labourcourt.ie. Notices of appeals must be sent to the Labour Court within 42 days from the date of the relevant decision.

Civil lists at the Circuit Court have been adjourned to a date after 20th April 2020. Parties to these cases will be advised of the adjourned dates by the Circuit Court offices. Practitioners or parties do not need to attend the Circuit Court unless notified by order of the Court. A Judge will be available to sit on each Circuit to hear urgent applications, which should be submitted to the relevant Circuit Court Office. All written judgments of courts will be delivered electronically to the parties.

We would recommend seeking legal advice as a matter of urgency if you are running out of time to initiate a claim under the Protected Disclosures Act.

Reporting fraud and other abuses

A crisis is always an opportunity for someone: not least for those who might abuse the trust of their employer, colleagues, customers or the public. There have been reports of theft of personal protection equipment for front-line health staff as well as procurement fraud.

If you are made aware of fraud, corruption or other related offences, you should report your concerns to your employer or the person responsible and see that the concern is passed to An Garda Síochána. This can be reported to your local garda station or (if the economic crime is serious) directly to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau.

You can always seek advice from the Speak Up Helpline or a solicitor, before and after you report.

List of Healthcare-Related Prescribed Persons

The Health and Social Care Professional Council (CORU) regulates a number of professions across the health sector, which include Social Workers, Dietitians, Optometrists, Radiographers, and Medical Scientists. The Chief Executive of CORU is the prescribed person for reports relating standards of professional conduct, education, training and competence through the registration of health and social care professionals. (Protected Disclosures Policy)

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) regulates medicines, medical devices and other health products. It also monitors the safety of cosmetics. The Chief Executive Officer of the HPRA is the prescribed person for reports relating to regulations of human and veterinary medicinal products. A Disclosure under the Protected Disclosures Act can be sent for the attention of the Chief Executive by e-mail to info@hpra.ie. You can also locate a variety of reporting forms on their Report an issue page. (Protected Disclosures Webpage)

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) develops standards, inspects and reviews health and social care services across a range of public, private and voluntary sector services. The Chief Executive of HIQA is the prescribed person for reports relating to the standards of safety and care of persons receiving health and social care services in the public and voluntary health care sectors and social care services in the case of the private health care sector. (Email: concerns@hiqa.ie)

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) enforces occupational health and safety law, promoting accident prevention, and providing information and advice across all sectors. They are also the lead National Competent Authority for a number of chemicals regulations, and a key agency involved in market surveillance and ensuring the safety of products used in workplaces and consumer applications. The HSA is the prescribed person for reports associated with legislation enforced by the Health and Safety Authority, and accreditation of laboratories, certification bodies and inspection bodies through the Irish National Accreditation Board within the Health and Safety Authority.

The Medical Council regulates medical doctors in the Republic of Ireland. The Chief Executive Officer of the Medical Council is the prescribed person for reports relating to the regulation of the medical profession in the State, including the quality of undergraduate education of doctors and of postgraduate training of specialists, the registration of doctors and disciplinary procedures and guidance on professional standards and ethical conduct. (Protected Disclosures Webpage)

The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) is the independent, statutory organisation which regulates the nursing and midwifery professions in Ireland. The Chief Executive of the NMBI is the prescribed person for reports relating to the registers of nurses and midwives, the provision of education and training of student nurses and midwives and the investigation of complaints against registered nurses and midwives. (Protected Disclosures Policy – internal)

The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) is a public body that regulates pharmacists and pharmacies in Ireland. The Registrar of the PSI is matters relating to the regulation of pharmacists and pharmacies. (Protected Disclosures webpage and Protected Disclosures guide)

The Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC) are the regulator for emergency medical services (EMS) in Ireland. The PHECC are an independent statutory agency with responsibility for standards, education and training in the field of pre-hospital emergency care. The Director of the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council is the prescribed person for reports relating to standards, accreditation, education, and training in relation to pre-hospital emergency care.

If you would like advice on how to contact any of the above bodies, you can call the Speak Up Helpline at 1800 844 866 or email helpline@tranparency.ie.

External Links and Additional Resources