What is the purpose of the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act?
The Act is intended to protect employees in the public sector from reprisal when they report wrongdoing in their workplace. The Act also requires public sector entities to establish an internal process to manage and investigate reports of wrongdoing from their employees.
Who does the Act apply to?
The Act applies to employees in the public sector including:
- Alberta government departments
- Offices of the Legislature
- Agencies, boards and commissions
- Education Sector including:
- public school districts
- separate school districts
- school divisions
- Francophone Education Region
- charter schools, and
- accredited private schools that receive grants
- Post-secondary academic institutions
- Regional health authorities and subsidiary health authorities, including Alberta Health Services
In its current form, the Act does not apply to employees in the private sector (excluding accredited private schools that receive grants as noted above).
What is considered “wrongdoing”?
Wrongdoings are defined as:
- An illegal act;
- An act or omission that creates an imminent risk to the health and safety of individuals;
- A specific threat to the environment;
- Gross mismanagement of public funds or a public asset;
- Gross mismanagement of a public service;
- Gross mismanagement of the delivery of a public service;
- Gross mismanagement of employees, by a pattern of behavior or conduct of a systemic nature that indicates a problem in the culture of the organization relating to bullying, harassment or intimidation
- Or knowingly directing or counseling an individual to commit a wrongdoing mentioned in the above instances.
If you are unsure if your issue is considered wrongdoing, contact our office and speak with one of our investigators.
How do I make a complaint?
Employees of public entities can either make a complaint of wrongdoing to their designated officer, or directly to the Public Interest Commissioner.
All complaints of reprisal must be made directly to the Public Interest Commissioner.
Can anyone make a complaint?
The Act is intended to apply to employees within the public sector. Designated officers are only required to accept complaints from employees within their entity. However, the Public Interest Commissioner may accept complaints from the public relating to wrongdoing committed by a public entity or an employee in the public sector.
Can I remain anonymous when I make a complaint?
The Commissioner may accept an anonymous complaint, however employees are strongly encouraged to seek advice from our office first to weight the pros and cons of doing so. You do not have to disclose your identity when seeking advice.
What happens after I make a complaint?
The designated officer or investigator will contact you within 10 working days to acknowledge receipt of your complaint. They may speak to you to obtain details about the wrongdoing.
Within 20 working days, the designated officer or investigator will advise you if they are proceeding with an investigation. If the decision is not to proceed, you will be provided with reasons.
What happens after an investigation is completed?
A designated officer is required to report the outcome of the investigation to the chief officer with recommendations on corrective measures that should be taken. It is then the responsibility of the chief officer to implement the corrective measures. The chief officer is the administrative head of the organization.
If an investigation is conducted by the Public Interest Commissioner, a report is provided to the chief officer of the entity with recommendations on corrective measures, when required. The Public Interest Commissioner then monitors the implementation of corrective measures. The Public Interest Commissioner may also elect to table a report in the legislative assembly or report the outcome of an investigation publically, if it is believed to be in the public interest.
If an investigation does not find a wrongdoing occurred, the matter is concluded and the employee who made the complaint remains protected.
Will I be informed of the results of the investigation?
The outcome of an investigation by either the designated officer or the Public Interest Commissioner is reported to the employee(s) who made the complaint.
What if I am not satisfied with the outcome of an investigation by my designated officer?
If a designated officer has not conducted an investigation following a complaint, or you are dissatisfied with the outcome of the investigation, you may bring the matter to the Public Interest Commissioner. The Commissioner will review the investigation conducted by the designated officer and may initiate an independent investigation.
How am I protected under the Act?
Under the Act, it is an offense to reprise against an employee who has reported a wrongdoing or has sought advice from their supervisor, designated officer or the Public Interest Commissioner. The Act also protects employees who assist with an investigation or refuse to participate in a wrongdoing. A “reprisal” is any measure that adversely affects the working conditions of an employee, including but not limited to: a dismissal, layoff, suspension, demotion or transfer, reprimand, reduction in wages or change in work hours. Persons who commit a reprisal against an employee could be subject to prosecution and substantial monetary penalties.
The Act requires the identity of employees reporting wrongdoing to be protected. The process of reporting and investigating complaints is confidential. Investigations conducted by the Public Interest Commissioner are not subject to information requests under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The Act gives employees the legal authority to disclosure confidential records which, in other circumstances, may be a breach of confidentiality agreements or privacy laws.
Employees can also obtain remedies in cases where the Commissioner finds a reprisal occurred. If, following an investigation, the Commissioner finds that a reprisal occurred, the Commissioner is obligated to refer the decision to the Labour Relations Board for determination as to the appropriate remedy.
Am I protected from reprisal when I seek advice or report wrongdoing to my supervisor?
Employees are protected when they seek information and advice from a supervisor about making a disclosure of wrongdoing under the Act. However, the role of the supervisor is limited to providing information and advice. Supervisors may not receive or investigate the actual disclosures of wrongdoing. The Act protects employees who report wrongdoing to either their designated officer or to the Public Interest Commissioner. An employee who chooses to use an alternate mechanism to report an issue to a supervisor may not be protected under the Act. It is important employees make it clear when seeking advice from supervisors that they are doing so under the Whistleblower Protection Act.