Whistleblower Protections

Does Your Company Have a Policy?

From 1 July 2019, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2019 (Cth) takes effect.

These changes impact all public companies and large proprietary companies. A large private company means a proprietary company with any two of the following:

  • consolidated revenue of $25 million
  • value of consolidated gross assets is $12.5 million
  • the company has 50 employees or more.

The key change is that those companies that are affected must have in place a compliant whistleblower policy by no later than    1 January 2020, or face penalties.

Other key changes include:

  • the requirement to provide additional training to those employees that may potentially be eligible recipients of disclosures
  • a whistleblower can now be a relative or dependent of an employee/officer of the company
  • disclosures can be made to officers, or senior managers, an auditor or actuary of the company, or a person authorised by the company to receive disclosures
  • public disclosures can be made in circumstances where there are reasonable grounds for believing that action has not been taken to address the disclosure (after a time period) 
  • public disclosures can be made to members of parliament or journalists
  • personal work-related grievances do not attract protection

The content of a whistleblower policy is found in section 1317AI of the Corporations Act 2001, and requires public and large private companies to have a policy in place which covers the following matters:

  • protections available to whistleblowers
  • who disclosures may be made to
  • how disclosures can be made
  • how the company will support whistleblowers
  • how the company will investigate certain disclosures
  • how the company will protect the whistleblower and ensure fair treatment of the employee
  • how the policy will be made available to officers and employees of the company

The penalty for failing to have a complying policy is 60 penalty units or $12,600. The penalties under the Act for disclosing the identity of a whistleblower, or victimising a whistleblower, extend to $1 million and a maximum of 6 months imprisonment.

These changes highlight the need for companies to have a policy in place to deal with the expanded protections.  Moreover, these changes underline the importance of managing both the potential for public disclosure and dealing with the fall out when information makes it into the public domain.

Griffin Legal can assist in developing or reviewing an existing policy, or advice relating to whistleblower and public disclosure management procedures. Contact us to discuss.

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