In late December 2017, the Australian Government tabled a Bill aimed at improving protection for whistleblowers in the corporate, financial, credit and tax sectors.
If passed, the new legislation will result in a range of changes taking effect from 1 July 2018.
The key changes are:
- Broadening the classes of protected informants to cover former officers and employees, suppliers to the organisation and family members of employees.
- Introducing new statutory protections for whistleblowers in relation to consumer credit laws and taxation, and expanding the current protections to take into account disclosures concerning corporate corruption, bribery, fraud, money laundering, terrorist financing or other serious misconduct.
- Eliminating the requirement that the whistleblower make the disclosure in "good faith".
- Allowing anonymous disclosures.
- Extending protection to a whistleblower who makes a report to a journalist or politician in circumstances where the whistleblower reasonably believes there is an imminent risk of serious harm or danger to public health or safety, or to the "financial system", if the information is not acted on immediately, and if a "reasonable period" has passed since the whistleblower first made a protected disclosure.
- Strengthening the protections and remedies for whistleblowers who are victimised for making a disclosure, including improving access to compensation.
- Corporations will face civil penalties up to $1 million for breaching a whistleblower's anonymity and for victimising or threatening to victimise a whistleblower.
- Requiring public companies and large private companies to have a whistleblower policy or face a penalty of up to 60 penalty units (currently $63,000 for a body corporate)
What does this mean for employers
At the very least, all Parties in the Parliament are likely to support the proposal to require organisations to set up internal whistleblower policies. Now is a very good time for companies to review their policies.
To satisfy the relevant requirements, the policy must:
- apply to employees, past employees, contractors, suppliers and family members of employees;
- contain a documented process for dealing with protected disclosures which ensures that all disclosures are dealt with within a reasonable time;
- include information about the protections available to whistleblowers; and
- clearly outline how the organisation will ensure fair treatment of employees who are mentioned in protected disclosures, or to whom protected disclosures are made.
If you have any questions about the proposed law reforms or would like further information about our support in this area, please contact your usual Norton Rose Fulbright advisor or one of our Employment and Labour team members here.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.