Protected Disclosures Policy

Introduction

The Health Research Board (HRB) is committed to the principle of public accountability and to developing a culture where it is safe and acceptable for all employees to raise their concerns about what is happening at work if they have a reasonable belief of wrongdoing.

Employees are usually the first to know if/when someone within or connected to an organisation is acting illegally or improperly.  The HRB will investigate genuine and reasonable concerns expressed by employees relating to a perceived wrongdoing in the HRB and will ensure that employees are not discriminated against or suffer detriment as a result of raising a concern.

For the purposes of this policy, the term ‘employee’ includes former employees of the HRRB and also includes individuals who currently work or have worked within the HRB such as external consultants, contractors, agency personnel and board members.

This policy does not address:

  1. allegations of research misconduct or other unacceptable practices, bullying and/or harassment, and poor research governance by a person engaged in a HRB-funded grant activity. These allegations should be made utilising the protected disclosures/whistleblowing procedures of the person’s employing organisation
  2.  allegations of misconduct or unacceptable practices, bullying and/or harassment, and data governance by a person engaged by the HSE or other service provider in data collection or management activities on HRB databases.  These allegations should be made utilising the protected disclosures/whistleblowing procedures of the person’s employing organisation.

The HRB is not a ‘prescribed person’ within the meaning set out in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, section 7.

Aims and Scope of this policy

This policy sets out the procedure for employees to follow if they have concerns about any wrongdoing in the HRB, without fear of adverse repercussions to the individual. Certain disclosures made under this policy will constitute ‘protected disclosures’ or the purposes of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. 

This policy aims to:

  • Encourage employees to feel confident in raising any serious and genuine concerns and that they will be addressed in a transparent and confidential way
  • To provide clear avenues for an employee to raise those concerns, to ensure the employee receive a response to their concern and receive feedback on any action taken
  • Reassure employees that they will be protected from harassment or victimisation if they have raised any genuine concerns
  • Protect employees from allegations made with malicious intent

It is not possible to give an exhaustive list of all actions which would fall under this policy but some of the major concerns that would fall under its scope would include:

  • Criminal activities
  • Failure to comply with legal or financial obligations
  • Misuse of information held on the HRB’s information systems
  • Actions which endanger the health or safety of employees, customers or the public
  • Misappropriation of funds
  • Unlawful or improper use of funds and/or resources of a public body, or of other public money
  • An act or omission of a public body is oppressive, discriminatory, grossly negligent or constitutes gross mismanagement
  • Actions which are intended to conceal any of the above.

This policy complements other HRB policies including the Grievance Policy, Respect and Dignity Policy, Recruitment and Selection Policy and Safety Statement which are already in place. There are no hard and fast rules about which policy to use in which circumstance, but the following are some guidelines that may assist:

  • If the issue causing concern relates to a management decision or conditions of service which affect you personally it is more appropriate to raise it under the HRB Grievance Policy
  • If the issue relates to bullying, victimisation or harassment then the Respect and Dignity Policy should be used
  • If the issue relates to an isolated safety incident, then procedures set out in the safety statement should be used.

This policy does not form part of an employee’s contract of employment. The HRB may amend this policy at any time.

Protection from harassment or victimisation

The HRB recognises that the decision to report a concern can be a difficult one to make. If an employee reasonably believes that what they are saying is substantially true they should have nothing to fear as they will be doing their duty to the HRB and those to whom it is providing a service.

The HRB will not tolerate any harassment or victimisation (including informal pressures) and will take appropriate action to protect an employee who raises a genuine concern.

If an employee believes that they are being subjected to harassment or victimisation as a result of making a disclosure under this procedure, they should inform their manager immediately.   Any evidence that an employee created difficulties for the discloser due to them raising a genuine concern, or that an attempt has been made to cover up wrongdoing, will be treated very seriously and is likely to result in disciplinary action.

How to raise a concern

As a first step employees should raise concerns with their line manager or Head of Unit.  The earlier a concern is raised, the easier it is to take action.   If this isn’t possible or the employee feels it is not appropriate due to the nature of the concern, its seriousness, or for some other reason, then the employee may raise the concern directly with the Director of Corporate Operations or the CEO.

If the employee feels the matter is so serious or that it is appropriate, the employee may contact the Chairperson of the Board or the Chairperson of the Audit & Risk Committee or a member of the Board.

Concerns may be raised verbally or in writing. Where a concern is raised verbally the following steps are to be taken by the employee raising the concern to ensure that the concern raised is acknowledged by the recipient as received in the manner intended by the employee.  These steps are to ensure that the recipient is clear that what is intended as a disclosure is not construed by the recipient as a passing or casual comment.  

1. The employee raising the concern sends a written communication to the recipient. The written communication confirms:

a.  the fact that a disclosure was made (details of the disclosure need not be included, just the fact that a disclosure has been made);

b. that a written acknowledgement from the recipient to the employee is required.  

2. The recipient responds with a written communication acknowledging receipt of the disclosure within five working days.

For the purposes of passing the information received to those responsible for investigating the concerns, the recipient of the concern may record the employee’s concern in writing and should seek that the employee raising the concerns confirm that the details are accurately recorded

If an employee wishes to make a written report, the guidelines for the information to be provided are as follows:

  • The background and history of the concern (providing relevant dates)
  • The employee’s particular concern with the situation (providing as much information as possible)

Although the employee is not required to prove beyond doubt the truth of an allegation, they will be required to demonstrate to the person contacted that there are reasonable grounds for their concern

Former employees of the HRB (and other individuals who have worked within the HRB) should raise a concern about perceived wrongdoing within the HRB by sending an email to the Director of Corporate Operations or the CEO as appropriate.

How the HRB will respond

Once a report has been made the recipient will acknowledge receipt within 5 working days

In order to protect individuals and those accused of misdeeds or possible malpractice, initial enquiries will be made by the person to whom the report has been made as well as at least one of the Director of Corporate Operations, CEO or Chairperson (as appropriate) and together they will decide whether an investigation is appropriate and, if so, what form it should take.

If an investigation is required, the matter may be:

  • Investigated by management or internal audit
  • Referred to the Gardai
  • Referred to an external auditor
  • Form the subject of an independent inquiry.

All investigations will be carried out in a fair and impartial manner and be cognisant of the reputations and standing of all those involved including those against whom an allegation has been made.

Some concerns may be resolved by an agreed action(s) without need for investigation. If urgent action is required it will be taken before any investigation is conducted.

Within ten working days of a concern being raised the responsible person will:

  • Acknowledge that a concern has been received (after 5 days?)
  • Indicate what approach will be taken
  • Provide a timeline on how long the appropriate process will take, if possible
  • Provide information on staff support mechanisms where required.

Subject to any legal constraints, and where deemed appropriate by the HRB, the employee who made the report may be informed of the outcome of the enquiries, investigation and any further actions that may be taken.

Untrue Allegations

If an employee raises a genuine concern, but it is not confirmed by the investigation, no action of any kind will be taken against the employee. If, however, it is determined in the course of an investigation that the allegation was made with malicious intent disciplinary action may be taken against the employee.

Confidentiality

All employees involved in the investigation will be required to maintain confidentiality in relation to the concerns being raised.  

Where an employee raising a concern has asked the HRB not to disclose their identity, the HRB will not do so unless required by law. Employees should be aware that there may be times when the HRB is unable to resolve a concern without revealing the employee’s identity; for example, where the employee’s personal evidence is essential. If so, it will be discussed with the employee whether and how the matter can best proceed.

It should be noted that where an employee seeks anonymity, it is much more difficult to fully investigate their concerns, and the HRB will not be in a position to provide feedback to them.  

Representation

An employee may invite their trade union representative or a work colleague to be present during any meetings or interviews in connection with the concerns raised.  The trade union representative or work colleague will be required to maintain confidentiality in relation to the concerns being raised.

How the matter can be taken further

The aim of this policy is to provide an avenue within the HRB to deal with concerns or disclosures in regard to wrongdoing. We strongly encourage employees to report such concerns internally.

We acknowledge that there may be circumstances where an employee wants to make a disclosure externally, and the legislation governing disclosures — The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 — provides for a number of avenues in this regard.

It is important to note however that while an employee needs only have a reasonable belief as to wrongdoing to make a disclosure internally, if they are considering an external disclosure, different and potentially more onerous obligations apply depending on to whom the disclosure is made.

Policy Owner

The Director of Corporate Operations has overall responsibility for the maintenance and operation of this policy. He/she will keep a record of the concerns raised and the outcomes (he will do so in a way that does not endanger your confidentiality while at the same time dealing with concerns raised effectively) and he/she will report as necessary to the HRB Audit & Risk Committee.

Review of this Policy

The Protected Disclosures Policy and Procedure will be reviewed on a regular basis by the HRB’s Audit & Risk Committee