Protected disclosures: Protection for whistle-blowers

Watch a NZ Sign Language version of this chapter
Watch a NZ Sign Language version of this chapter

If you become aware of serious wrongdoing by your employer or within your employer’s organisation, you’re protected from any disciplinary or other retaliatory action if you tell someone about the wrongdoing (often called “whistle-blowing”). There are rules, however, about who you can tell.

The protections for whistle-blowers also cover volunteers and members of boards, not just employees.

When are whistle-blowers protected?

You’ll be protected under the Protected Disclosures Act if:

  • the information you disclosed is about serious wrongdoing in or by your employer organisation (see below, “What is ‘serious wrongdoing’?”), and
  • you believe on reasonable grounds that the information is true, or likely to be true, and
  • the reason you disclosed the information was so the wrongdoing could be investigated, and
  • you want to have the benefit of the protections in the Act.

What is “serious wrongdoing”?

Serious wrongdoing includes:

  • a criminal offence
  • the unlawful, corrupt or irregular use of public funds or resources
  • conduct that poses a serious risk to public health or safety, to the environment, or to the maintenance of the law
  • a grossly improper act or omission by a public official.

Who can I disclose the information to?

Usually you must disclose the information in the way that’s required by your employer’s internal procedures.

In some cases, however, you can disclose the information to an appropriate authority outside your employer’s organisation, such as the police, the Serious Fraud Office, a government Minister, or the Ombudsmen. You can do this if you believe, on reasonable grounds:

  • that the head of the organisation is, or may be, involved in the serious wrongdoing
  • that it’s urgent that you disclose the information immediately to an appropriate authority or that for some other reason it’s an exceptional case
  • that you’ve disclosed the information under your employer’s internal procedures and 20 working days have now passed without any action being taken.

    Note: All public-sector organisations must have a procedure for disclosing information.

How am I protected if I disclose the information?

If you’ve disclosed information under the Protected Disclosures Act and your employer takes retaliatory action against you, such as dismissing you, you can bring a personal grievance against them for unjustified dismissal or unjustified action (see “Personal grievances” in the chapter “Resolving employment problems”).

You’re also protected against any criminal charges, civil court action or disciplinary proceedings being taken against you.

Your identity must also be kept confidential by the people you disclose the information to, except in certain cases.

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