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Stacks/The Law Firm - News Room
ARE WHISTLEBLOWERS PROTECTED?
Many of us saw the recent media coverage about a woman who blew the whistle on her former boss, a then NSW government minister, for child sex offences. Gillian Sneddon helped the police gather a case against him, but in the process, claims to have undergone bullying and harassment before being ‘made redundant’. Last week she was awarded over $400,000 for her workplace treatment, which had caused her to suffer a psychiatric injury.
A sort-of victory. He got put away for a least 9 years and she got damages for the way she was treated. But she was bullied and harassed. It’s understandable why many would choose to stay quiet rather than risk their job security and well-being. (Russell Crowe’s character in The Insider springs to mind.)
So how does the law protect whistleblowers?
It depends. If you work in the public sector then the NSW Protected Disclosures Act offers some protection. The Act makes it a criminal offence for a person to cause someone to suffer, either professionally or personally, because they’ve informed on someone within the organisation regarding something they believe is seriously wrong (eg corruption or serious misuse of public money).
Under the NSW Ombudsman guidelines, whistleblowers must be treated with respect and complaints handled confidentially (or at least discreetly). Any allegations about a person being punished for speaking out should be handled quickly and fairly. (Not the case for Sneddon).
Whistleblowers in the private sector have less legal protection, although sections of the Fair Work Act and the Corporations Act offer some. For example, it’s an unlawful termination if you’re sacked for making a complaint against an employer. And the Corporations Act prohibits victimising or threatening a person for blowing the whistle on someone within a company whose actions have gone against Corporations legislation. The culprit is liable to compensate the victim for any damage suffered.
Under Occupational Health and Safety laws employers have a duty of care to ensure the safety and welfare of their employees.
Of course, as an employee your behaviour has to be reasonable. You can’t go making false and carefree accusations, and you’re expected to follow your organisation’s complaints procedures. If you’re scared to complain internally, there are other bodies you can go to (eg. the NSW Ombudsman - public sector). Having evidence to back up what you say will ultimately give you the best protection.
Many would argue that laws aside, whistle blowing carries risk. But if it exposes serious problems within an organisation, perhaps the risk’s worth it.
18/02/2015 |BEWARE TRAPS IN NEW HOME BUILDING LAWS Anybody buying a newly completed home or builders doing the construction should be aware of changes to laws governing building that came into force in January. The laws were brought in by the NSW government to try and fix problems regarding shonky builders, but there are complaints that in fixing one problem the new laws create others.
11/02/2015 |PRIVACY LAWS CAN PUNISH FACEBOOK REVENGE The woman was shocked, outraged, embarrassed and humiliated when her ex-boyfriend posted sexually explicit photos of her on Facebook...
17/09/2014 |LAWYER FOR ASYLUM SEEKER HAMID KEHAZAEI CONFIDENT OF INQUEST INTO HIS DEATH The lawyer representing the asylum seeker who died after cutting his foot at the Manus Island detention centre is confident his death will be ruled as a "death in custody", triggering an inquest.
1/07/2014 |YAGOONA MAN RYAN KITCHING ASKS DRIVER OF CAR THAT STRUCK HIM TO COME FORWARD RYAN Kitching has a simple message for the driver of the car who knocked him off his bike and shattered his pelvis in Yagoona this year – “please come forward”...