Managers are often unaware of the day to day issues experienced
by their employees, partly because employees who are aware of the
issues may have reservations about formally coming forward with a
concern, and partly because it's difficult for managers to
oversee everything that happens in an office.
It is important, as a matter of risk management, for employers
to be aware of practices in the workplace which could expose the
company to liability in some way. How willing employees are to come
forward with important information depends on the reaction of the
employer upon receipt of that information, and whether that
reaction encourages, or deters, other employees from speaking
In the news recently, ICAC hearings into Botany Bay Council
have revealed that several people reported financial irregularities
years ago, but no action was taken. The Council's financial
accountant reported to the Deputy General Manager in 2009 that
invoices from a computer contractor carried the bank details of the
Council's CFO, Gary Goodman. In 2007, another employee had
reported that Mr Goodman insisted on having another signatory sign
blank cheques, and then completed them himself. As far as the
employees could tell, no action was taken on either report. That
hardly encourages employees to make further reports of
7-Eleven scandal around underpayment of employees serves to
illustrate just how important it is for employers to know about
issues that could amount to contraventions on the part of the
employer. The CEO and Chairman of 7-Eleven resigned from their
positions, shortly after it became known to them how widespread the
underpayments had been. If more protection had been afforded to
whistleblowers, and a culture existed which rewarded, rather than
punished, whistleblowers for speaking out, the issue may have
resolved itself with much less publicity, and the period over which
the offences occurred (and the cost of rectification) would have
been much less. By the time the underlying issues are resolved, the
dirty laundry has already been aired.
a Queensland rail worker was disciplined for taking a photo of
a co-driver who climbed onto the bonnet of a moving train. The
whistleblower was given a final warning because she was not
supposed to be using her mobile phone in the driver's cabin.
Although the whistleblower may have contravened a safety policy,
the purpose for the contravention was to give evidence to the
employer about unsafe work practices. Perhaps a better response
would have been to discuss the seriousness of the contravention of
the no-phone policy, but to make an allowance in this situation, in
order to better foster a culture supportive of whistleblowers.
Although disciplining a whistleblower for conduct in connection
with speaking out may be justified, the potential message to
employees in general is that speaking out could lead to the
employee losing their job, or facing some other adverse
consequence. The fear of reprisal felt by many employees who have
something to disclose, is pervasive and needs to be addressed. This
recently voiced by Greg Tanzer, a Commissioner at the
Australian Securities and Investments Commission, who has suggested
that the definition of a whistleblower (the "discloser")
under the Corporations Act needs to be broadened so as to cover
more individuals, and that whistleblowers who suffer financially as
a result of speaking out should be compensated.
To encourage employees to speak out about the issues they see,
employers should ensure that first, they have a grievance policy in
place that tells employees what will happen if they raise a
complaint, and to whom they should speak. Second, procedures should
be put into place that afford the whistleblower a degree of
anonymity if required, or at least shield the whistleblower from
potential backlash from those involved in the misconduct. Third,
employers should ensure that such policies are actually followed.
It's one thing to say that employees will be supported -
it's another thing to demonstrate that the support and
protection on offer is a real part of the culture. As we have seen
with many of the organisations reviewed by the Royal Commission
into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, too often the
institution protects its own interests, rather than those of
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.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
Some comments from our readers… “The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable” “I often find critical information not available elsewhere” “As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).