Whistleblower Legislation Places New Obligations on Public Sector Employers

The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act, SA 2012, c P-39.5 (the “Act”) was passed by the Alberta Legislature during the Fall Sitting and given Royal Assent on December 10, 2012. The Act has not yet come into force, but this is expected later this spring.

The legislation is designed to facilitate the disclosure and investigation of significant matters that an employee believes may be unlawful, dangerous to the public or injurious to the public interest. It creates an Office of the Public Interest Commissioner, which will be responsible for carrying out the duties assigned in the Act. The Commissioner will be appointed by the Provincial Cabinet.

Although Regulations associated with the Act have not yet been passed, this new regime is expected to apply to a broad range of public sector employers including provincial agencies, boards and commissions, as well as academic institutions, school boards and health organizations.

The Act requires affected organizations to designate a responsible officer and to establish detailed procedures that facilitate the disclosure of wrongdoing, investigation of disclosures, and reporting of investigative outcomes. Each organization must also have procedures which ensure the confidentiality of information collected and the protection of the employee who makes the disclosure. Moreover, the legislation allows for the Public Interest Commissioner to investigate disclosures within affected organizations in certain circumstances.

Individuals who knowingly withhold material information, make a false statement, obstruct an investigation, or retaliate against an employee who makes a disclosure may be found guilty of an offence under the Act.

Organizations which may be affected should be taking steps to prepare for this legislation. Although a number of employers may already have procedures in place which allow for employees to report concerns, these procedures will need to be reviewed to ensure they comply with the detailed processes which will be required.