Whistleblowers are people who expose illegal, unethical or inappropriate activity of companies or organisations or information that has been kept secret. The new legislation expands the definition of a whistleblower to include current and former employees; contractors; employees of contractors; associates; trustees; and relatives or dependants of the aforementioned. They also permit anonymous disclosures.
What do the new laws mean?
From 1 January 2020 public companies, large proprietary companies and corporate trustees of APRA-regulated superannuation entities are required to have a whistleblower policy in place. The policy must have been implemented before 1 January 2020 and failure to do so may incur a fine of up to $12,600.
The policy is a legal document that companies must make publicly available and easily accessible for all employees and other persons engaged in the company.
The mandatory policy must include information about:
• the protections available to whistleblowers;
• who employees can disclose information to and the process they can follow to do so;
• how the company will investigate the information whistleblowers disclose;
• how the company will ensure fair treatment of employees who are mentioned in protected disclosures and;
• how policies will be made available to officers and employees of the company.
What protections are offered to whistleblowers?
The new laws expand the previous provisions to allow the following protections to whistleblowers:
• they can ask for their identity to remain confidential, however a company may seek advice regarding this;
• they are protected against certain legal actions related to making the whistleblower report;
• they can be compensated for any loss, damage or injury suffered due to the making of the whistleblower report; and
• it is an offence for someone to cause or threaten detriment to a person because they believe or suspect that the person has made, may have made, or could make a whistleblower report.
Consequences of Whistleblower Policy Breach
If an individual breaches the confidentiality of a whistleblowers identity, victimises or threaten to victimise a whistleblower, they can be fined up to $1.05 million. Meanwhile, companies who breach this confidentiality, victimise or threaten to victimise a whistleblower will face fines of up to $10.5 million.
As a business owner what should I do?
These new laws make it more important than ever to ensure that your confidential business information can be protected from disclosure. It is important that your employment contracts and your written workplace policies provide for protecting the confidentiality of business information that might harm your business if it was disclosed. If you don’t have written employment contracts and written workplace policies we strongly suggest that you speak to a lawyer to have them prepared.
If you would like more advice or information regarding how these new laws may affect you or your company call WMD Law on (02) 9525 8688.
CEO & Accredited Specialist in Family / De Facto Law
Telephone: 9525 8688
Facsimile: 9526 2608