Rewards and Protections May Soon Be Available to Australian Qui Tam Whistleblowers
It is reported Nick Xenophon, an independent Senator representing South Australia, plans (if he is reelected) post the September 7 2013 election to introduce legislation designed to strengthen his Australia’s corporate whistleblower laws.
The legislation is planned to be styled after the United States’ False Claims Act, which allows for private citizens and organizations to bring suit on behalf of the government, share in any recovery, and benefit from significant legal protections afforded to those who blow the whistle.
This would represent the most significant step Australia could take toward remedying (and preventing) fraud against federal government entities such as Medicare as has been achieved by the American False Claims Act.
Whistling in the wind? Dr Eva Tsahuridu July 2012
In the July 2012 edition of “Intheblack Magazine” Dr Eva Tsahuridu, CPA Australia’s policy adviser, professional standards and governance, wrote “Effective internal whistleblowing can help all businesses identify and address risk. It can also convey the message that the organisation listens to employees. Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that employee concerns about illegal or unethical acts fall mostly on deaf
or hostile ears.”
She emphasized inter alia that “formal mechanisms for whistleblowing are required because most entities do not take advantage of the most effective source of risk identification” and programs “need to be paralleled by cultural change, where the whistleblower is not seen as a disloyal dobber.”
Rupert Murdoch doesn’t know where the buck stops – do you? 20 July 2011
James Thomson, the Editor of SmartCompany made some interesting observations following the appearances of Rupert and James Murdoch before a British Parliamentary inquiry into phone hacking by News Corporation’s publications.
The Murdochs and the CEO Rebekah Books all claimed “to have been kept in the dark over key elements on of this hacking scandal over the last three-to-five years.” If this is accepted Mr Thomson asserts that questions must be asked “about News Corp’s governance procedures and particularly the way it detects, investigates and deals with unethical behaviour.”
“He contends that “it’s not just News Corp that should answer these questions – SME company owners and managers would do well to sit down and figure out how problems are dealt with in their company.
These governance questions would include:
•What processes are in place for detecting unethical behaviour? Is there an anonymous phone line or an established process for staff to make reports?
•How are complaints acted on? Is there an established complaints-handling process?
•Which managers are given the responsibility for deciding the seriousness of complaints and therefore the level of manager that needs to be informed?
•How is the CEO and board kept informed of serious complaints?
•How are the outcomes of serious complaints made known to the organisation?
Being able to answer these questions is as important in a small company as it is in a large business like News Corp.
Most SME entrepreneurs I know understand that the buck always stops at the top – problems are always the CEOs responsibility, regardless of who actually created the problem.
And when the buck stops at the top, leaders better have a way of ensuring that problems can be quickly and appropriately dealt with.
Because when things go wrong and directors and investors start asking questions, you’d better have some clearer answers than Rupert did.”
Employers still lax in controlling workplace bullying 6 June 2011
A national survey of over 5,100 employees found close to one third (28%) of Australian workers say they have been bullied in the workforce, while 42 per cent of employees report having witnessed their colleagues being bullied or discriminated against at work.
The 2011 Workplace Pulse Quarterly survey, conducted by employment screening solution provider, WorkPro, revealed bullying and discrimination remain prominent features of the Australian workplace. One quarter of employees (23%) say that they have been a victim of bullying or discrimination in the workplace in the last two years, while 12 per cent report that it has happened multiple times.
The findings come as the Victorian state government sent a clear signal to workplace bullies last week with bullying now considered a criminal offence in Victoria. Changes to the Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2011 mean Victorian workplace bullies could now face up to 10 years jail.
Tania Evans, Manager of WorkPro, said that employers need to realise that bullying and unfair treatment in the workplace are more common than they think, and they must put strategies in place to help tackle the problem.
“These are issues that over 40 per cent of employees say they have witnessed which seriously affects workplace culture and could put employers at risk of liability from OHS claims,” Ms Evans said.
“Last week’s amendment to the Crimes Act in Victoria makes it clear that threats and abusive words or acts which amount to bullying will incur serious consequences for anyone who engages in this type of behaviour,” Ms Evans said.
However, when compared to WorkPro’s previous survey, the 2011 results are very similar to those seen in 2008, indicating that many employers are still not addressing these issues.
“Employers need to be proactive about making sure employees get the information they need to understand their rights and responsibilities at work. They also need to ensure employees feel they can report inappropriate behaviour,” Ms Evans said.
Ms Evans emphasised that education needs to involve a clear reporting line for bullying and discrimination. She says that individuals working in temp placements are most confused about these reporting lines, with 47 per cent unsure of whether they report to the recruitment agency or the host employer.
Refer Workplace Pulse Quarterly Survey: Bullying and Equal Employment Opportunity @ http://www.workpro.com.au/
Bullying is now a criminal offence in Victoria (pending Royal Assent) 2 June 2011
“This amendment to the Crimes Act, makes it clear that threats and abusive words or acts which amount to bullying constitute the offence of stalking.
This legislative change acknowledges the serious consequences for anyone who engages in this type of behaviour.
The OHS Act imposes duties on employers and employees with respect to treatment of anyone in the workplace. Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark acknowledged that despite the OHS Act having an important role in addressing significant workplace issues, the Café Vamp case demonstrated the need for the worst cases of bullying to be regarded as criminal offences carrying significant punishments.
These cases will generally be investigated by WorkSafe Victoria and in more serious instances be referred to Victoria Police.
The purpose of this legislative change is to address the issue of serious bullying and deter people from engaging in such conduct. Employers must take responsibility to ensure that employees can work in a safe environment that is free from risk, including incidents of bullying. Employers are encouraged to update their bullying policies and educate employees in relation to this legislative change.