Whistleblowing legislation catches private sector unawares
A Freehills survey has found that although the public sector is largely aware of whistleblowing protection legislation, half of the private sector respondents did not know of public sector penalties for failing to protect employees who report illegal activity.
Calvert Duffy, General Manager of Legal Risk Management at Freehills, says that although there is no corresponding legislation throughout Australia for the private sector, it is surprising that the current legislative regime in the public sector has not encouraged businesses to introduce some form of whistleblowing process.
Click below for Freehills whistleblowing e-survey report
‘The media has had a field day with the concept of whistleblowing post-Enron, HIH and OneTel,’ said Mr Duffy. ‘So it’s unusual that 51 per cent of respondents in our non-government group were not aware of any relevant Australian legislation.
‘The public sector, especially local government, is very aware of the requirements of the various acts which relate to them. This is probably due to the fact that there has been a recent emphasis on the issue, including public sector legislation in Victoria and New South Wales.
‘But only 32 per cent of private sector respondents said their companies had whistleblowing policies in place at the time of the survey, even though 66 per cent said it was something their company should have. Obviously there is still at lot of work to do to get this discrepancy satisfactorily addressed.
‘Penalties for persecuting, or failing to protect from persecution an employee who raises concerns can be as high as two years imprisonment or $240,000 in the Victorian public sector.
‘A formal policy on whistleblowing is the best way to protect employees, and involving them in the development of the policy may assist in raising awareness and understanding. However, only 11 per cent of private sector respondents involved employees in the process. This is unfortunate, as it can also help to break down some negative views held about whistleblowing.’
To investigate such issues of culture, the eSurvey also asked ‘is the term whistleblowing regarded derogatively in your organisation?’, based on the oft-cited belief that Australians ‘don’t dob in a mate’. Responses showed that this was a concern, and other terms, such as ‘protected disclosures’ were used instead.
‘It might be better for the private sector to look at adopting a “whistleblowing culture” before it is forced into adopting such programs by legislation,’ Mr Duffy said. ‘Whistleblowing is about the ability and ease which matters of concern to an employee can capture the attention of an appropriate body. It might also encourage employee retention, and help the bottom line through the elimination of fraud.’