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You can be a whistleblower and not face dismissal

Peter McDermott

'Whistleblowing' refers to the practice whereby employees report the wrongdoings of their employer or fellow employees to the proper authorities. The Protected Disclosures Act (PDA) No. 26 of 2000 is a piece of legislation aimed at corporate governance and attempts to provide safeguards for whistleblowers who follow the prescribed procedure. Despite this, most employees wouldn't consider blowing the whistle – and risking dismissal - even if faced with dire circumstances. This article explores why.

A recent American study shows that employees are six times more likely to report misbehaviour if their employers promote accountability in their working environments. Conversely, if small violations are routinely ignored by staff and superiors, this fosters an atmosphere of unaccountability in which employees are less likely to report larger, more serious lapses in judgment.

Why could employees not want to blow the whistle on misbehaviour?

Employees may allow misconduct to go unreported for a variety of reasons, such as they fear for:

  • Their careers, or
  • The offender personally.
  • It is exactly this kind of 'occupational detriment' the PDA guards against.

What is an 'occupational detriment'?
An 'occupational detriment'– according to the National Anti-Corruption Forum – includes, e.g. harassment, dismissal, transfer against the will of the employee, non-promotion or a denial of appointment.

It is also possible the employee doubts that their claims would be taken seriously or they don't know how to report the matter – a problem which should be easily solved by implementing a formal grievance procedure system.

What ethical challenges could employees face?

Some of the most prevalent unethical behaviours employees are likely to encounter are colleagues who:

  • Take long lunches,
  • Stay away from work without good reason, and
  • Misappropriate small articles of company property.

If you have not managed to create a work environment where employees are confident and secure in reporting such transgressions as part of the day-to-day functioning of the company – without fear of dismissal - then this paves the way for more serious infraction – such as embezzlement and sexual harassment to go unreported.

Confidence plays a key role in fostering an environment of accountability

An employee who is confident that their employer will view the complained-of behaviour as wrongful and serious also feels comfortable in bringing such wrongful behaviour to the attention of the employer. Such confidence is best built by previous experience.

This means that it's critical for you to be seen taking grievances and complaints seriously and to act on them, if appropriate.

If you encourage regular meetings where accountability issues are raised and dealt with, you won't only foster an environment of accountability but you will also gain the opportunity to performance manage your employees effectively.

As with all things labour related, process is of the utmost importance. Whistleblowers forego the protection of the PDA if they don't report to the correct parties. Whistleblowing is intended, first and foremost, as a system of internal accountability and an employee who goes straight to the media will mostly fall outside of the PDA's protection.

Peter Mcdermott

Peter did a Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech), Human Resources Management and Services at Technikon Witwatersrand (1994-1998) and an Advanced Diploma – Labour Law, Law at University of Johannesburg (2001-2002).

He joined Labour Net in 1997 and was a consultant there until 2000, and has been a director and shareholder in Invictus Outsourcing Solutions since November 2001.

Peter has gained extensive knowledge and experience over the past 17 years in dealing with various Human Resources (HR) and Industrial Relations (IR) matters, including but not limited to :

  • Bargaining Council
  • Black Economic Empowerment (BEE)
  • CCMA
  • Contracts of Employment
  • Corporate Law
  • Disciplinary Procedures
  • Dismissals
  • Dispute Resolutions
  • Employment Equity (EE)
  • HR Policies and Procedures
  • Labour Court
  • Labour Relations
  • Negotiations
  • Performance Management
  • Personnel Management
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Retrenchments
  • Skills Development (SD)
  • Strikes
  • Talent Management
  • Trade Unions