The Protected Disclosures Act 2000 encourages employees to disclose and report information about serious wrongdoing in the workplace. This Act provides protection for these employees from criminal and legal retribution, and outlines the internal procedure to be followed when investigating the matter. Employees who report information or activities that are deemed illegal or incorrect in a workplace are often referred to as ‘whistle-blowers’. The Act applies to the public and private sector across New Zealand.
Serious wrongdoing includes any unlawful activity, gross negligence by public officials, criminal offences or conduct that could potentially pose a risk to the public on a broader scale. It should not be confused with serious misconduct, which only affects an individual or group of people in the organisation.
The Act describes the following as serious wrongdoing:
The Protected Disclosures Act 2000 defines ‘employees’ as:
For the disclosure to be protected, the following requirements under the Act must be met:
If the employee knows the allegations are false, acts in bad faith or the information is protected by legal professional privilege; the disclosure will not be protected.
Public organisations are required by law to have their own internal procedures.
Private organisations are not legally required to have a protected disclosure policy. Although, having a policy does show transparency within the organisation and may give employees the comfort of knowing they can express their concerns without fear of retribution.
Employees should follow the internal procedure in the company handbook to report any cases of serious wrongdoing.
If the organisation does not have a protected disclosure policy and the person that manages the disclosures is the one being accused of serious wrongdoing, an employee can disclose the information to the head of the organisation.
If there is good reason to believe the employer or disclosure manager is involved in serious wrongdoing, the employee may report to the appropriate authorities to have the matter investigated. These authorities include the Ombudsman, Commissioner of Police, Director of the Serious Fraud Office, Solicitor-General or the head of every public sector agency.
Many employees are afraid to disclose information about serious wrongdoing because they are afraid of losing their job, being sued by the company or discriminated against. The Act clearly states that no civil, criminal or disciplinary action can be taken against whistle blowers or potential whistle blowers for making a protected disclosure.
If an employee does face any form of retaliation from the organisation, they can submit a personal grievance claim under the Employment Relations Act. Employers who discriminate or mistreat employees that have disclosed information about serious wrongdoing could face serious legal consequences.
After making a protected disclosure, an employee’s personal information is kept confidential according to the terms of the Act unless the employee consents to the disclosure.
There are exceptions to the confidentiality rule in the Act, which means certain information can be used if it:
For advice on how to comply with the Protect Disclosure Act 2000 in your workplace, contact Employsure on 0800 675 700.