There are times where an employee may witness an incident at their workplace that may go beyond acceptable ethical conduct which should reasonably be reported to the relevant authorities. In such cases, employees can be at somewhat of a predicament, not knowing whether to report something in fear of the repercussions from employers that might potentially risk their jobs. One solution which exists is to put in place a well-defined whistleblower program. In essence, this policy should ensure employees can comfortably reveal information about an act they feel to be improper, without jeopardising their employment.
What Protection Exists for Whistleblowers?
Part 9 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) covers whistleblower protection in the private sector. It gives protection to officers, employees and contractors of a company by entitling them to civil rights, notably to be reinstated as an employee after disclosing and preventing any form of retaliation from the employer.
When making a report, employees must follow the requirements stipulated by the Corporations Act. They must provide their name and suspect on reasonable grounds that there has indeed been a breach of the Act. It must also be made to either ASIC, a company auditor, director, manager or other person authorised to receive a disclosure of that kind.
When a disclosure is made, the discloser must not be liable under criminal or civil law for making the disclosure. Moreover, a contractual remedy cannot be enforced such as liability for disclosing confidential information under a contract. Moreover, protection is limited to reporting breaches of the Corporations Act and Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001 (Cth) themselves, not extending to protect other instances of alleged misconduct that may warrant disclosure.
In this regard, the responsibility rests primarily on a business to define and implement its own whistleblower policy.
What Makes a Robust Whistleblower Program?
A whistleblower policy should offer as complete an assurance as possible to employees. It should preferably consist of the following features:
- A statement of commitment: management should firmly establish they will abide by the policy in force.
- Assign staffing and financial resources to its implementation
- Provide for specialist whistleblower management training
- Make a comprehensive risk evaluation of all company stakeholders
- Define what is classed as reportable behaviour under the policy
- A guarantee that staff can also be offered protection for reporting for wrongdoing which may strictly fall within the policy
- Assure the anonymity of the disclosing employee and reporting pathways available to them
- A regular review mechanism allowing for continuous improvement
There also exist other options for employers wanting to implement an internal whistleblower policy. If looking for a pre-made program, there also exists a suite of platforms which enable employees to anonymously lodge their claims.
Reforms to Whistleblower Laws
Whistleblower laws have been receiving more attention in the wake of Senate Economics Committee making extensive recommendations on them in April 2016, something which could likely lead to a raft of legislative changes if endorsed by the government. Potential reform includes expanding the scope of the corporations act protection to former employees, increasing ASIC’s investigatory power regarding disclosures and offering compensation to whistleblowers. Accordingly, employers should periodically seek external legal advice as to see if more extensive protection is available to their employees under any new laws.
By affirming your employee’s rights to voice concerns about business practices, a whistleblower policy is an important step to take to both bolstering the confidence of your employees and strengthening workplace ethics, leading to a far more healthy company culture overall. It also helps ensure that any questionable actions can be swiftly dealt with, significantly enhancing business integrity. LegalVision’s corporate law team can assist you in customising a specific whistleblower program tailored to the needs of your business.
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