A Circuit Court judge has ruled there are substantial grounds for contending that the dismissal of two senior managers at the Lifeline ambulance company was wholly or mainly due to their submission of a disclosure of alleged wrongdoing to the Revenue Commissioners.
The employees of Lifeline Ambulance Service Limited had sough reinstatement to their posts or the continuation of payment of their salary until their unfair dismissal case is heard at the Workplace Relations Commission.
The two employees had challenged their dismissal under the 2014 Protected Disclosures Act, which prevents whistleblowers from being penalised after making disclosures of wrongdoing to relevant authorities - one of the first cases under the new legislation.
Mick Dougan and Sean Clarke had argued that their dismissal was covered by this legislation.
However, counsel for Lifeline Ambulances and its owner - mortgage campaigner David Hall - vigorously denied that the workers had been penalised.
Carl Hanahoe argued that the dismissals followed a business review carried out by the former Chief Executive of the Mater Hospital Brian Conlon - though it was stressed that the decision to dismiss the men was taken by the board or Lifeline Ambulances and Mr Hall.
Counsel also noted that three Lifeline employees, Mr Dougan, Mr. Clarke and Mary Windrum, had signed the protected disclosure to the Revenue Commissioners - but Ms Windrum had not been dismissed - making it less likely that the dismissals were related to the disclosure.
The company also claimed that the dismissed managers had been planning to set up a rival company.
Counsel for the men, Tom Mallon, told the court that Mr Hall had not denied employees' allegations of bullying or harassment, or disputed that their submission to the Revenue Commissioners was a protected disclosure.
That protected disclosure to the Revenue was not read to the court.
In his ruling Judge Francis Comerford said he could not find that the employees' dismissal was wholly or mainly due to the protected disclosure they had made to the Revenue Commissioners on the evidence presented to him.
However, the claimants did meet the threshold of establishing that there were substantial grounds for contending that the dismissal of Mr Dougan and Mr Clarke was wholly or mainly due to the protected disclosure.
Lifeline then offered Mr Dougan re-engagement on "gardening leave", which counsel for Lifeline described as a "zero hours contract with 40 hours pay".
The judge ruled that Mr Dougan's refusal of this offer was reasonable.
Lifeline offered Mr Clarke re-engagement as a paramedic working on Lifeline Ambulances.
Giving evidence, Mr Clarke noted that he had not worked as a full-time paramedic since 2002 and that it would be difficult for him to work alongside staff that he had previously supervised and disciplined.
Again, Judge Comerford ruled that the refusal was reasonable.
He made an order obliging Lifeline Ambulances to pay the salaries of Mr Dougan and Mr Clarke until their unfair dismissal case is heard at the Workplace Relations Commission.
Costs were awarded against the company.