Beefed-up whistleblower laws are now in play / Clear way for staff to tell of corporate misconduct

Adam Fairhurst , Associate Director, Forensic Services |

06 March 2020

As a corporate investigator working with companies to identify fraud and misconduct, the statistics around company misconduct are quite alarming. Across most sectors and industries, it is likely that about 10 percent of the workforce is engaged in some form of misconduct.
It is also highly likely that potential whistleblowers are concerned with reporting the misconduct due to fear of reprisal.

This scenario cannot happen any longer.

Whilst misconduct will no doubt continue, Australia has somewhat caught up with community expectations, with the recent amendments to the Corporations Act providing expanded protections to the whistleblower from any detriment or reprisal as well as anonymity.

What does this legislation mean for business owners? Public companies, large proprietary companies, and propriety companies that are trustees of registerable superannuation entities are now required to have a whistleblower policy. ASIC has provided substantial guidance to assist businesses to meet these obligations, including advice on what is an eligible disclosure, who is eligible to make a disclosure, who is an eligible recipient and how a whistleblower can make the report.

ASIC also recommends companies incorporate staff training around whistleblowing and suggests a business have an independent whistleblower hotline.

The changes are good news for business. Not only does it provide protections for people to report wrong-doing in the workplace, I expect it will positively influence corporate culture by encouraging transparency, more disclosures and, indirectly, act as a deterrent to those thinking of doing the wrong thing.

Information disclosed by a whistleblower could detrimentally affect your business and the new amendments outline that it is a matter for the company to determine how to manage the information disclosed. Essentially, you could do nothing, although this would be too risky and not an option in my opinion. If the information meets the criteria of an eligible disclosure, an investigation would be the most likely outcome; whether internally or via an independent external investigation company. 

This article appeared in The Courier Mail’s Quarterly Business Monthly, February 2020 edition.