Whistleblower protections

Whistleblowers play an important role to identify and call out misconduct and breaches of the law, including the laws administered and enforced by ASIC. This can be where a company or its managers or employees commit fraud, rip people off or cause harm to others.

The law provides rights and protections for whistleblowers to encourage them to come forward and protect them when they do.

This page answers common questions about the whistleblower protections in the law. For more detailed information, read:

  • Information Sheet 238 Whistleblower rights and protections (INFO 238)
  • Information Sheet 239 How ASIC handles whistleblower reports (INFO 239).

Who is a whistleblower under the law?

The whistleblower laws cover you if you are a current or former employee or company officer and you report misconduct about the company or its managers or other employees.

You are also covered if you are a supplier or contractor to the company, even though you are not an employee.

Your spouse and family members are covered too.

See INFO 238 for the full list.

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Who does the law protect?

Who is protected?

The protections cover you if you are a current or former employee, officer or supplier or contractor to a company, and you report misconduct or a breach of the law by the company or its managers or employees.

For example, you will be covered if you report fraud, ripping off the company or its customers or suppliers, or misleading people to make a sale.

It’s not only serious misconduct or breaches. You will be covered if you raise an improper state of affairs or circumstances for the company, such as a business practice that causes consumer harm.

You don’t need a reason to report, but you must have reasonable grounds to suspect the misconduct you report. That is, there must be a reasonable basis for your concerns that the company or its managers or employees have committed misconduct, breached the law, or acted improperly.

Who is not protected?

If your report is solely about a personal grievance you are having in the workplace, you will not be protected by whistleblowers laws.

Further, a person is not protected for a false claim. It must be an allegation you have reasonable grounds to suspect is the case.

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How can I report my concerns?

You can report your concerns directly to the company you are or were employed by or contracted with. You must report them to senior people within the company, such as a director or company secretary, or someone the company names. The company may also use a hotline for whistleblower reports. You can also report to the company’s auditor or actuary, if they have one.

All companies in Australia must comply with the whistleblower protections. ASIC encourages companies to have a program in place for handling any whistleblower reports they may receive in line with the legislative requirements, but only certain companies are required to have a formal whistleblower policy.

Public companies and large proprietary companies must have a whistleblower policy. The whistleblower policy must include information about how you can report your concerns within the company and the protections available to you. Looking at the company’s whistleblower policy first may help.

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How can I report my concerns to ASIC?

You can report your concerns to ASIC. You don’t have to report to the company first, but you can if you wish.

As a first step, we need you to summarise your concerns in writing. This helps us to respond quickly with what further information we may need and what documents to ask for.

Report your concerns through our online form.

We keep all concerns reported to us confidential and won’t reveal your identity or the information you provide unless we are compelled to do so by law. We will let you know what we are doing with your information and if we need further help from you.

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Can I report anonymously?

Yes. You don’t have to give your name or identify yourself to be protected as a whistleblower.

It may be hard for the company or ASIC to follow up your concerns or update you if you don’t give some way to contact you, but the law will still protect you.

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How am I protected under the law?

It’s against the law for a person to reveal your identity as a whistleblower or information likely to identify you, unless you agree first.

It’s also against the law for a person to cause you detriment, harm you or threaten you for reporting misconduct.

Your employer can’t sack you, demote you, discriminate against you, or harass or intimidate you because you reported misconduct.

If you are a supplier or a contractor to the company, it can’t threaten your contract or business arrangements because you reported misconduct.

People can’t take legal action against you because you report misconduct. This can include being charged for a criminal offence or facing private legal action, such as for a breach of your employment contract or defamation for making you report.

You can seek to be compensated, reinstated to your job or for other remedies through the courts, if they do.

If you need to rely on these protections, we encourage you to seek legal advice. The circumstances relating to your situation will be unique and ASIC does not give individual legal advice.

However, you don’t get immunity if you were involved in the misconduct you report. If you cooperate, ASIC will likely take this into account. See INFO 172 Cooperating with ASIC if this applies to you.

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I’ve reported misconduct to my employer and now I’m being victimised. What can I do?

It’s against the law for a person to cause you detriment, harm you or threaten you for reporting misconduct.

ASIC can investigate allegations that a person caused or threatened you with detriment for reporting misconduct. Report your concerns through our online form.

You can also seek compensation through a court if you suffer loss, damage or injury for making your report. We encourage you to seek advice from a lawyer about whether the whistleblower protections may be relevant for you, and if you have a valid claim for compensation. ASIC’s role is not to take compensation action on your behalf.

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What if my concern is not a matter for ASIC?

Other regulators and law enforcement agencies may be responsible for investigating your concerns.

You are still able to report your concerns to ASIC. By raising your concerns with us, the law can protect you as a whistleblower. This will be important if you are not comfortable first reporting your concerns to the company directly.

If you report something to ASIC that is not within the laws administered and enforced by ASIC, we will refer you to them.

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Are personal work-related grievances covered by the whistleblower protections?

If your report of misconduct is solely about a personal grievance you are having in the workplace, the whistleblower protections in the law won’t apply.

A personal work-related grievance has implications for you personally and does not also have significant implications for your employer.

Examples include:

  • an interpersonal conflict between you and another employee
  • a decision relating to your engagement, transfer or promotion
  • a decision relating to the terms and conditions of your engagement, and
  • a decision to suspend or terminate your engagement, or otherwise to discipline you.

While the whistleblower protections aren’t available for a personal work-related grievance, you may have other employment law protections available to you. Contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for information about workplace rights and obligations.

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Can I report my concerns publicly?

The law will protect you as a whistleblower if you report your concerns about an emergency or matter in the public interest to a journalist or parliamentarian, in certain limited circumstances. If you go public with your concerns in another way, such as by posting on social media, you won’t be covered.

INFO 238 explains the steps you must take to be protected for disclosing to a journalist or parliamentarian in detail. We encourage you to read the steps set out in INFO 238 carefully.

The key steps are summarised below. Before reporting your concerns about an emergency or a matter in the public interest to a journalist or parliamentarian, you must first report them to ASIC, such as through our online form.

Emergency disclosures

You must have reasonable grounds to believe your report concerns substantial and imminent danger to the health or safety of one or more people or to the natural environment.

If so, you can report to a journalist or parliamentarian after you write to ASIC to let us know you intend to make an emergency disclosure.

Public interest disclosures

You must have reasonable grounds to believe that:

  • action to address your concerns is not being or has not been taken, and
  • reporting your concerns to a journalist or parliamentarian is in the public interest.

If so, you must wait 90 days from when you first reported to ASIC, then you must write to ASIC again to let us know you intend to make a public interest disclosure.

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Where can I go for help to understand the whistleblower protections?

As with any rights and protections under the law, we encourage you to seek advice from a lawyer about how the whistleblower protections may help you. The protections under the law are there for you to pursue, if you need them.

If your company is required to have a whistleblower policy, the policy must explain the protections available to whistleblowers and how the company will support and protect you.

ASIC cannot provide you with legal advice about your personal circumstances.

We can provide you with general information about the protections, and we encourage you to read INFO 238 and INFO 239. We will keep you updated on a regular basis if we investigate your concerns, where we are able to comment on our activities, see INFO 152 Public comment on ASIC's regulatory activities.

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Where can I go for support?

Whistleblowers play an important role. Despite this, we appreciate that you can find yourself in difficult and stressful circumstances when you blow the whistle. You may feel isolated from colleagues or fear for your personal or financial safety.

If the company has a whistleblower policy, the policy must set out how it will support and protect you.

There may be other resources available to you as a current or former employee. You can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for information about workplace rights and obligations.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by money or personal issues, ASIC’s Moneysmart website has information about free personal support services.

If you are concerned about your personal safety, we encourage you to contact the police.

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Whistleblowing

Guidance for company officers and company auditors on the whistleblower protection regime

30 June 2020

Information sheets to help companies, company officers and company auditors understand and comply with their whistleblower protection obligations

Whistleblower protections

Answers to common questions on the rights and protections for whistleblowers

Business ethics: New challenges, better theories, practical solutions
A speech by ASIC Commissioner John Price, 9 December 2019. John discusses the important role whistleblowing can play in fostering an ethical culture for business.

ASIC gives guidance on companies’ whistleblower policies and relief to small not-for-profits
Media release 19-308MR. 13 November 2019

Whistleblower protections for not-for-profit organisations, 29 May 2019

 


Whistleblowers and the Corporations Act

Corporations Act Whistleblowing

ASIC Executive Director Warren Day talks about whistleblowers and the important role they play in identifying and calling out misconduct and harm to consumers and the community.

Read the transcript

ASIC and whistleblowers

Asic Whistleblower Thmb

ASIC Executive Director Warren Day discusses when ASIC will act on whistleblowing information.

Read the transcript


Fair Work Ombudsman

You can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman if you would like to report someone who isn't complying with workplace laws or you need help in resolving a workplace issue.


Last updated: 23/04/2020 09:07