Here’s what you need to know about whistleblowing

Protections exist to protect whistleblowers from adverse action – make sure HR isn’t caught in the crossfire.

Here’s what you need to know about whistleblowing
Chances are, the next Edward Snowden isn’t in your organisation’s midst. Whistleblowing in the corporate world is an important part of identifying corruption and wrongdoing. This is recognised on a global scale, with many nation states having protections in place for whistleblowers.
According to a report from DLA Piper, China, Japan, South Africa, the US and the UK are considered to have the greatest protections for whistleblowers, followed by Germany, Netherlands and Australia.
Andrew Ball, head of employment at DLA Piper, stated that whistleblowing laws in Australia are piecemeal, featuring in various legislation for distinct purposes. These protections are primarily found in:
  • The Corporations Act (2001). This includes provisions that protect company officers, employees and contractors who make good faith disclosures about breaches of corporations legislation.
  • Occupational Health and Safety Acts. These prohibit retaliatory action against employees who raise issues or concerns regarding workplace safety.
  • The Commonwealth Public Interest Disclosure Act (2013). Provides protection for people who make disclosures from reprisals in the workplace and against legal liability.
  • Protection Disclosure Act, Public Interest Disclosure Act, Whistleblower Protection Act. Sets out procedures for making protected disclosures about misconduct and maladministration affecting the State public sector and provides protection for persons who make such disclosures from reprisals in the workplace and against legal liability.
  • The Fair Work Act (2009) (Cth)/The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act (2009) (Cth). Protects employees from retaliation by employees if they have exercised a “workplace right”. Further protections apply to union members, employees and officers from retaliation, defamation and civil and criminal liability in relation to disclosures or breaches of either act.
“All of the legislation is equally important because there are serious ramifications for breaching any of them,” Ball told HC. “If, however, I was to select any [as the most important] it would be the Corporations Act (2001) and the Fair Work Act (2009) as they are likely to have the broadest application for private sector employers.”
Victimisation against a whistleblower carries serious ramifications legally, and an employer can be liable if an individual employee takes action or victimises a whistleblowing co-worker.
“The best course of action for HR to stop this from happening is firstly to make themselves aware of the scope and extent of the law.  Secondly, ensure that their organisation has policies that appropriately deal with whistleblowing and thirdly, inform and train staff in relation to the dos and don'ts of the policies,” Ball advised.
Ball added that these laws are not confined to Australia, but laws in other jurisdictions may differ greatly. As such, if the organisation conducts business across jurisdictions, HR must be knowledgeable of the laws overseas and be prepared to get advice quickly so that the organisation can take the appropriate action when whistleblowing issues arise.

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