For all public sector organisations, a whistleblower policy is nothing new. However, the new Whistleblower Bill requires all public companies and large proprietary companies to have a Whistleblower Policy in place. These reforms aim to help protect those who “blow the whistle” or make disclosures about corporate, financial or tax misconduct. For most organisations impacted, the changes will take effect from 1 July 2019. Large proprietary companies must have a whistleblower policy, no later than six months after a proprietary company first becomes a large proprietary company. The transitional provisions give a further six month period for the whistleblower policy to be in place (so if the legislation commences 1 July 2019, the policy must be in place by 1 January 2020). A Whistleblower Policy must contain information about:
- The protections available to whistleblowers, including the protections available under the legislation;
- The person/organisations to whom protected disclosures may be made, and how they can be made;
- How the company will support whistleblowers and protect them from detriment;
- How the company will investigate protected disclosures;
- How the company will ensure fair treatment of employees of the company who are mentioned in protected disclosures, or to whom such disclosures relate;
- How the policy is to be made available to officers and employees of the company; and
- Any other matters prescribed by the regulations.
The changes will present some challenges, these include:
- Appointing internal resources who receive and investigate protected disclosures;
- Employers need to evaluate if current processes for handling such information are appropriate or need enhancing;
- Additional training / awareness/ communications will be required for all staff to ensure they know how to identify a whistleblower report and what to do if they receive one;
- Employers need to ‘have-ready’ the services of an appropriate conduct investigator should the need arises; and
- Organisations operating in multiple jurisdictions should consider whether a ‘one size fits all’ approach is appropriate, given there are differences between the whistleblower protection laws in various jurisdictions.
Consequences of contravention
Failure to comply with the new requirements is a criminal offence and significant penalties for corporations (and individuals) rising from contraventions of the legislation.
The Bottom line
Public companies and large proprietary companies will need to comply to the new Whistleblower Bill , but all employers are encouraged to have a compliant Whistleblower Policy in place and consider some form of training to all staff.