Public interest investigations are typically large scale and involve substantial investigative work.
They usually involve a significant amount of time and human resources both by the Commissioner’s office and the entity subject of the investigation. This can cause disruption to regular business, and can result in an unjustified negative public perception of an organization where the investigation is occurring. Although these investigations are necessary in some circumstances, in other cases there may be opportunities to resolve the matter in an equally effective manner, outside of a formal investigation.
The general purpose of the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act (the Act) is to bring wrongdoing to the attention of organizational heads so that corrective measures can be taken. A large scale investigation is not always the most efficient or effective way to achieve that objective. A significant benefit of the Act is that it gives the Commissioner discretion to take any steps considered appropriate to resolve the matter. This affords the Commissioner’s office significant latitude to expeditiously and informally resolve issues.
Over the last year and continuing forward, the Public Interest Commissioner’s office is giving careful consideration to disclosures received by the office, where an opportunity for informal resolution may exist.
Organizations having a strong culture around whistleblower protection, with organizational leaders sharing a desire to affect positive change, and that have a collaborative relationship with the Commissioner’s office, present an opportunity to address and resolve alleged wrongdoing informally.
In one particular case, the Public Interest Commissioner worked with a public entity to resolve an alleged gross-mismanagement of employees. An organizational head was accused of bullying and intimidating employees in a manner that was impacting the culture of the organization. Inquiries found information that supported the allegations however, both the impacted employees and senior leadership wanted to avoid a full investigation. In working with the organization, the matter was informally addressed and the alleged wrongdoer resigned from their position. In this case, the issue was resolved and the impacted employees were satisfied with the outcome.
We have seen the effectiveness of this process to quickly address issues, while also allowing us to build relationships with organizations and change perspectives around the benefits of public interest disclosures. Organizations benefit in collaborating with the Commissioner’s office as it allows them to avoid the time and expense of a formal investigation, mitigates potential reputation risk, and promotes confidence in the administration of their organization. We aim to continue building on this collaborative culture and working towards having all organizations share a common interest in the detection and remedy of wrongdoing.