New Whistleblower Laws

New Whistleblower Laws will take effect on the 1st of July. The new law requires all public and large proprietary companies to introduce a Whistleblower Policy.

A large proprietary company is one that has at least two of the following criteria:

  • consolidated revenue in excess of $50 million;
  • consolidated gross assets of more than $25 million; or
  • at least 100 employees within the company and the entities it controls.

The Whistleblower Policy must be in place by 1 January 2020, otherwise companies may risk fines of up to $12,600.  The Whistleblower Laws introduced:

  • expanded whistleblower protections regarding all Australian companies;
  • a requirement for larger Australian companies to introduce a Whistleblower Policy; and
  • new significant penalties for breaches of whistleblower protections, ranging up to $10.5million.

The category of persons who can make disclosures protected by the laws is now expanded to include employees, officers and suppliers of companies as well as their family members. Disclosures may now be made anonymously and can still be protected by the laws.

If an individual or company breaches the confidentiality of a whistleblower’s identity, fines of up to $1.05m apply to individuals and up to $10.5m apply to companies engaged in the breach.

If an individual or company victimises or threatens to victimise a whistleblower (that is, treat them detrimentally), fines of up to $1.05m apply to individuals or up to $10.5m apply to companies engaged in the breach.

The disclosures protected by the laws include disclosures where a person has reasonable grounds to suspect that the information disclosed concerns:

  • misconduct or an “improper state of affairs or circumstances” regarding any of the entities covered by the laws or their related bodies corporate;
  • conduct that breaches the Corporations Act 2001 or conduct that breaches the ASIC Act or a range of specified insurance, life insurance and superannuation statutes;
  • conduct that relates to an offence against any law of the Commonwealth which is punishable by imprisonment for 12 months or more; or
  • a danger to the public or the financial system.

Importantly, disclosures about personal work-related grievances are not generally protected by the laws. This includes disclosures about:

  • matters pertaining to a discloser’s employment that impact upon the employee personally;
  • interpersonal conflict between a discloser and another employee;
  • decisions relating to promotions, demotions, terms and conditions of employment; and
  • decisions about taking disciplinary action against a discloser (including decisions about suspension and termination of employment).

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