Do you have a whistle blowing policy in place? You might be in the minority. But a lack of protection for employees actually has detrimental effects on an organisation, says legal expert.
Here’s a scenario: An employee becomes aware of illegal behaviour conducted within the workplace that could potentially damage the company. After observing the behaviour multiple times, the employee decides to report it to senior management. In no time, they become ostracised and then, all of a sudden, their position is no longer required. While some employers might claim coincidence, punishment for reporting on the unlawful or immoral behaviours of a company employee is a familiar occurrence in workplaces and is a violation of the Fair Work Act 2009.
This was the case for former senior compliance officer Sally McDow from Origin Energy, who has commenced legal action against her employer for a non-genuine redundancy. McDow became a whistleblower in 2015 and feels that her redundancy is linked to raising serious concerns about Origin’s conduct.
McDow’s case is one of many that demonstrates a lack of protection for employees who report unlawful behaviour.
Employees should instead be encouraged to raise concerns. Any attempt to ‘sweep the issue under the rug’ by removing the employee who makes a complaint leaves a company open to legal repercussions. This also includes bending the truth about the situation to company stakeholders.
How should employers react?
Policies and procedures are integral to correctly handle a whistleblower situation for efficiency and confidentiality. To further ensure the confidential nature of any concerns that are raised by an employee, it is recommended that an external body is appointed to investigate any claims that are made and provide an unbiased resolution.
Employers should implement a whistle blowing policy and ensure that all employees are aware of their rights and obligations under the Fair Work Act 2009. The confidentiality of complaints is vital to protect employees and make them feel comfortable enough to report any instances of unlawful or unethical behaviour. Maintaining confidentiality also limits the potential for any consequence to befall anyone who chooses to submit a complaint.
The situation should be dealt with quickly and efficiently, with the results handed down in a timely manner. An appeals process is also recommended, as some employees might feel that any claims deemed unsubstantiated might not have been investigated adequately. This might include access to an external body.
Protections for whistleblowers?
The General Protections provisions under the Fair Work Act 2009 aim to protect employees from consequences they might face after making a workplace complaint.
Origin Energy’s choice to make McDow redundant after she reported the behaviour of Origin demonstrates the consequences some employers impose on employees who decide to speak up.
Employers must remember that they cannot punish employees for planning to report or reporting unlawful or immoral behaviour.
Benefits of showing support
Employees who feel supported enough to become a whistleblower in their organisation can have a beneficial effect.
It is easy to see the importance of having a whistle blowing policy to ensure that employees do not fear punishment for raising concerns that could result in the termination of their employment.
If the concerns of an employee are investigated properly and substantiated reports are acted upon, it could prevent an accident, financial loss to the employer or even save a life.