An effective public service depends on the commitment of everyone working within it to maintain the highest possible standards of honesty, openness and accountability. The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act (the Act) creates a safe avenue for public servants to report wrongdoings or make complaints of reprisal. Employees covered by this legislation can choose whether to report internally or directly to the Public Interest Commissioner.
The Act applies to Alberta public sector employees employed by:
- Alberta government departments
- Offices of the Legislature
- Provincial agencies, boards and commissions
- School boards
- Accredited private schools that receive public funding
- Post-secondary academic institutions
- Public sector health authorities, including Alberta Health Services
- Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and their offices
- Ministers and their offices
- The Premier and his/her office
- Prescribed service providers
What is a wrongdoing?
The Act specifically defines wrongdoing as:
- A contravention of an Act, a regulation made pursuant to an Act, an Act of Parliament of Canada or a regulation made pursuant to an Act of Parliament of Canada
- An act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of individuals or to the environment
- Gross mismanagement of public funds or a public assets, or 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
- Knowingly directing or counselling an individual to commit a wrongdoing
What is a reprisal?
A reprisal is any measure that is taken, directed or counselled against an employee that adversely affects the employment or working conditions of the employee. Examples of reprisal include:
- A dismissal, layoff, suspension, demotion or transfer
- A discontinuation or elimination of a job
- A change of job location, reduction in wages, changes in hours of work or reprimand
How am I protected?
Each organization is responsible for establishing policies and procedures including the appointment of a designated officer responsible for receiving and investigating disclosures of wrongdoing.
Public sector employees are protected from reprisal under the Act when:
- They seek information and advice from a supervisor, their designated officer, or from the Public Interest Commissioner;
- When they report a wrongdoing to the designated officer within their organization;
- When they participate in an investigation by their designated officer or the Public Interest Commissioner; and
- When they refuse to participate in wrongdoing.
The Act gives public sector employees a clear process for voicing concerns about significant and serious wrongdoing and provides legislated protections including:
- Confidentiality—the identity of the whistleblower is maintained at all times;
- Anonymity—public sector employees may make disclosures anonymously;
- A legislated process for reporting and investigating wrongdoing;
- The legal ability to disclose confidential and private information; and
- Strict penalties imposed on individuals who commit a reprisal. A reprisal is a prosecutable offense.
Public sector employees also have the ability to obtain financial remedies in cases where the Commissioner finds a reprisal occurred. If an investigation by the Public Interest Commissioner’s office 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. The Commissioner is also required to report a reprisal to the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General for consideration of prosecution under the Act.
How do I make a complaint?
Public sector employees must report a wrongdoing through their designated officer, or to the Public Interest Commissioner. If you choose to report directly to the Commissioner, you can do so by filling out our complaint form.
If you feel you have been the subject of a reprisal and wish to make a complaint, you may contact our office or submit an online complaint form.
Employees can generally recognize when something is wrong. Deciding what to next is sometimes challenging. As a first step, we encourage you to speak confidentially with one of our investigators.
Employees may also seek advice about making a disclosure with their designated officer or from their supervisor. The conversation and the advice provided are confidential. Employees are also protected from adverse employment action as a result of seeking this advice.
Looking for more information?
If you have any questions or need advice, contact the Public Interest Commissioner’s office directly at:
Toll free (North America): 1.855.641.8659
Email: [email protected]