The Workplace Relations Commission ruled the prison officer was not informed for over a year that a potential security threat to him, which left him and his family in fear, had been lifted.
The deciding officer said this “failure of management to inform the complainant, despite his very clear, cogent descriptions of the affects of the matter on his family, constituted unfair treatment” under the act.
“I conclude that there was a link to his protected disclosure,” the adjudication officer noted. The prison officer made a protected disclosure in March 2016 about training and employment practices in the institution in which he worked.
The Department of Justice refused to recognise his allegations as a protected disclosure, but in an appeal process, retired judge William Early deemed in February 2017 that he had made a disclosure.
The prison officer brought an action through the WRC, where despite Judge Early’s ruling, the prison service initially still refused to accept the original allegations were a protected disclosure. This position was then changed and the protected disclosure accepted.
The prison officer claimed he had been subjected to:
- Unfair treatment at work in relation to duties;
- Unfair disciplinary action;
- Financial penalty through failure to pay him properly;
- Unfair treatment in the failure to notify him that a security threat did not exist.
The security threat was identified by the officer in February 2015 when he and his wife believed they were under surveillance. The gardaí were informed and the prison officer upgraded security in his family home.
Gardaí contacted prison management in early April 2015 to say no threat existed, but the officer was not told, despite repeated attempts over 15 months to discover the status of the threat. The WRC official said this was an “extremely serious issue of a potential security threat” and ruled the treatment was linked to his disclosure.
The WRC found the prison officer had written to management in July 2016, reminding them he had sought a report on the security matter earlier in February. “The response he received was that the matter was progressing to HQ and was awaiting a response. This despite local management having knowledge of the removal of the threat to the complainant and his family since April 2015.”
Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness said the prison officer and his wife “have gone through bad health in recent years because of their attempts to bring these matters to the attention of the authorities”.
“This case has now set down a marker for the Department of Justice and every other department or agency handling disclosures,” he said. “People in that position need to be taken seriously and dealt with not just by way of taking care of the person making the disclosure, but by changing the organisation.
“This man is not the only one in the prison service being penalised by this kind of thing,” he said.
The Protected Disclosure Act provides for protection for anybody who makes a disclosure, ensuring that they cannot be subjected to unfair treatment or any penalty as a result of making their complaint.
A spokesman said the Irish Prison Service is considering whether to appeal to the Labour Court.