Australia’s new whistleblower protection laws will come into operation on 1 July 2019, expanding the current protections and imposing new requirements on some employers. This article will discuss how the federal whistleblower protection laws will affect your company.
Whistleblower protection exists in Federal, State and Territory laws around Australia.
Whistleblowers are known as people who give information to the police or other authorities (such as ASIC, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission) about an organisation’s activities. Usually, those activities are harmful, immoral or illegal, for example, corruption, environmental damage or anti-competitive behaviour.
Whistleblower protection exists in certain situations: they are given immunity from being sued in civil actions or prosecuted in criminal proceedings if they have disclosed information in the right circumstances. State and Federal legislation sets out these protections.
The aim is to help people to make disclosures that are in the public interest.
The current Federal laws apply protections in circumstances where:
In recent years, however, there has been an increased public desire for companies to be more accountable for their activities, for example, the Royal Commissions into banking and aged care, and rising environmental political activity.
The knock-on effect is that the Australian government has acted to widen the scope of the federal whistleblower protection laws.
From 1 July 2019, the new laws will:
Penalties are significant fines for individuals and companies. There are also penalties for threatening or victimisation of a whistleblower.
The new Federal laws will not protect people who:
Some State or Territory laws may protect whistleblowers in these situations, for example, State anti-victimisation laws or equal opportunity laws.
We recommend that you seek legal advice from us to work out whether your company needs a whistleblowing policy. Even if your business falls outside the thresholds, it may be worth putting a policy in place if you’re expecting to meet the thresholds within the next few years.
A whistleblowing policy should contain:
Information about how employees can access the policy.
Regardless of the size of your organisation, we recommend that you get in touch to discuss whether your organisation needs a whistleblower policy. It’s also an excellent reminder to review related policies, such as anti-discrimination, grievance, anti-victimisation and workplace health and safety policies.
This communication provides general information which is current as at the time of production. The information contained in this communication does not constitute advice and should not be relied upon as such. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken in reliance on any of the information. Should you wish to discuss any matter raised in this alert, or what it means for you, your business or your clients' businesses, please feel free to contact us.