Awareness key for whistleblowing disclosure to work effectively

What’s a wrongdoing? What’s a reprisal? And if I work for a public entity, who do I call if I want to blow the whistle?

These are all questions received by the Public Interest Commissioner’s office last year, and explored in the office’s 2013-14 annual report.

After the first 10 months of operations by the Public Interest Commissioner’s office – a new independent office of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta – the annual report highlights the fact too many entities covered by the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act are not ensuring their employees know how to blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

“While some entities have made progress reaching out to staff and ensuring they know who to talk to and what their options are, we’re finding that’s the exception, not the rule,” said Peter Hourihan, the Public Interest Commissioner. “While the Act does not set a timeline for organizations to identify their designated officers and establish disclosure procedures, the Act does require that employees are aware of their rights and responsibilities.

“Our expectation is public entities are not only establishing their whistleblower disclosure policies and procedures, but are breathing life into them as well,” said Hourihan. “It’s not enough to simply post a policy online, or park it on an employee intranet site. There should be effective education and follow-through across the public sector.”

The Commissioner tracks 370 entities, from the Government of Alberta’s departments and agencies, boards and commissions (ABCs) to post-secondary institutions, health sector agencies and school authorities (such as public and separate school authorities, and charter and private schools).

For example, of the 72 Government of Alberta ABCs, offices of the Legislature, the health sector and post-secondary institutions, 61, or 85 per cent, have identified their chief and designated officers to the Public Interest Commissioner and advised on the status of their disclosure procedures.

However, of the province’s 129 private schools, only four, or three per cent, have identified their chief and designated officers to the Commissioner and advised on the status of their disclosure procedures. None of the 94 Early Childhood School private operators have done so.

The office also launched two investigations in 2013 after receiving disclosure of wrongdoing.

One investigation examined allegations of wrongdoing regarding an Alberta Health Services computer purchase, and a final report was released last month. The other investigation involved a workplace/human resources issue, in which it was determined no wrongdoing had occurred. The disclosure highlighted issues and concerns in the workplace, and the Commissioner communicated those to the organization’s leadership to relieve the situation.

Media inquiries:
Paul Michna, Communications Manager
780-643-1531
paul.michna@ombudsman.ab.ca