If you think there has been a serious wrongdoing in your present or past workplace and you tell someone about the wrongdoing (“whistleblowing”), you’re protected from negative retaliation like disciplinary action or being passed up for a promotion. There are rules, however, about who you can tell. This section covers when and how you are protected when you tell someone about the wrongdoing (“protected disclosure”).
What is “serious wrongdoing”?
Serious wrongdoing includes:
- a criminal offence, or
- the unlawful, corrupt or irregular use of public funds or resources, including where these are used in the private sector, or
- conduct that poses a serious risk to public health or safety, the environment, the health and safety of any individual or the law being maintained, or
- a grossly improper act or omission by a public official.
When am I protected if I tell someone about the serious wrongdoing?
You’ll be protected under the Protected Disclosures Act if:
- the information you disclosed is about serious wrongdoing in or by your employer’s organisation, 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.
How will I be protected?
The protections for whistle-blowers cover employees, volunteers, secondees, contractors and members of boards.
Protection from unfair treatment
If you’ve disclosed information under the Protected Disclosures Act, your employer should not take action against you. “Taking action against you” includes things like giving you a warning, denying you benefits or privileges at work, or unfairly passing you up for a promotion.
If your employer does take action against you, your family or associates, you can bring a personal grievance against them for unjustified disadvantage.
If you are a volunteer or contractor, you may be able to bring an action under the Human Rights Act.
Protection from criminal, civil and disciplinary actions
If you make a disclosure, you are protected against any civil court action, criminal charges, or disciplinary action because of making the disclosure. This rule overrides any other agreement or contract, like an employment agreement, that restricts disclosing the information.
These protections only apply to making the disclosure. If you were involved in the wrongdoing, you may still face criminal, civil or disciplinary action for your part in the wrongdoing.
Your identity must be kept confidential by the people you disclose the information to unless it is really necessary for your identity to be shared. You should be consulted with beforehand if this is thought to be necessary so you can give your opinion on the decision.
Who should I tell about the serious wrongdoing?
Your employer should have a policy about whistle-blowing that sets out who you should tell if there is a serious wrongdoing.
You can disclose the information following this policy, or to the head or deputy head of your organisation.
You can also disclose to an appropriate authority outside your employer’s organisation. Who an “appropriate authority” is will depend on the issue. For example, it might be Oranga Tamariki if it is an issue to do with child welfare; Worksafe if it is a health and safety breach; or the Financial Markets Authority if it is an issue with financial reporting.
You can find a list of potential authorities at: ombudsman.parliament.nz/make-protected-disclosure
Note: All public-sector organisations must have an internal procedure for disclosing information. Information about these procedures must be widely available, so both current and previous employees can access the procedures.
Can I tell someone outside of my work?
You can tell an appropriate authority about the serious wrongdoing at any time. This might be a good option if you feel like your employer has insufficient systems to address your disclosure, or if you feel unsafe raising the issue directly with someone at your work. You could also tell an appropriate authority if you disclosed the information and nothing has happened about it.
If you are getting legal advice, you can always disclose your concerns to a lawyer. You can also tell a friend or family member about the situation to get their advice and support. The Act covers this support person, too.