The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has recently decided the case of Skelly v Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board, ADJ-00018085, in which a teacher complained that he had been penalised after making a protected disclosure. Our Adrian Twomey highlights the key points to note in the decision which highlights the legal protection afforded to workers under whistleblowing legislation.
The Complainant, Leonard Skelly, was an experienced teacher of Spanish and economics. He was employed by Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board (DDLETB) at Colaiste Pobail Setanta on a temporary contract from 1 September 2017 until 31 August 2018.
Students did not have textbooks and instead used digital content created by the school. Mr. Skelly was directed to copy sections of a book and other material into the school system for use by students. He objected on the basis that doing so was, in his opinion, a breach of copyright. He brought his concerns to the attention of the Principal.
It appears that no action was taken by the school in relation to the issue. For that reason, the teacher brought the issue to the attention of the Irish Educational Publishers Association and the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency before also raising his concerns at a Whole School Evaluation conducted by the Department of Education. The resulting Whole School Evaluation report was critical of the school. Regular published e-books were later introduced into use.
The teacher subsequently applied for two or more posts at the school teaching business or economics but was not offered any of the roles in question. He sued the DDLETB, claiming that he had been discriminated against on the basis of his age and gender and that he had been penalised for making a protected disclosure.
The Complainant's claims in relation to discrimination based on his age and gender failed. However, the Adjudication Officer found that:
"... Mr. Skelly made a protected disclosure within s5(3)(a) of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 as he had a reasonable belief (even if he was wrong, but reasonably mistaken) that a criminal offence of breach of copyright has been, was being or was likely to be committed in the school."
She went on to note that the Complainant was highly qualified and had received a good probation review before his applications for further employment were rejected despite there being a shortage of business teachers at the school. Based on those facts, she found that:
"I can only conclude that Mr. Skelly was penalised in not being interviewed for a role of Business Studies Teacher for the academic year 2018/2019 for which he was well qualified. A second fixed-term contract from the school would have provided Mr. Skelly with a contract of indefinite duration, consequent security and as a result he has suffered detriment and financial loss."
The Adjudication Officer awarded the teacher €43,425 in compensation.
The outcome highlights the fact that penalising whistleblowers for reporting wrongdoing is not only unlawful but can also lead to substantial awards being made against employers. Those who require advice in relation to whistleblowing issues or representation before the WRC can contact our Adrian Twomey.