Act to cover workers and state employees…
What was expected has now arrived in the form of an amending Bill to the Protected Disclosures Act, or “Whistleblowers Act”, which will draw contract workers, independent contractors, consultants and agencies into the ambit of the legislation, as well as state employees and employers.
The draft is for public comment until mid July, such being called for by the proposers, the ministry of justice and correctional services.
In the first case, the term “independent contractors” will embrace protection for contract workers in terms of the Act together with the already described basic terminology of “employees”. Secondly, the proposals clearly identify state employees who are working, or who have worked, for government and state utilities.
Much strengthening of the Act to protect whistleblowers is evident, including a procedure for disclosing unlawful behaviour in the workplace by both private and public sector employees and how such disclosure is to be protected.
Civil and criminal liability
The draft bill proposes that whistleblowing employees can approach the courts for relief in the face of detrimental behaviour shown towards them by employers and that they will be immune from civil and criminal liability flowing from a disclosure that reveals criminal activity. Also, the disclosure of false information by whistleblowers is to be regarded as an offence.
As a separate issue, the Bill now places upon the employer a responsibility to set up appropriate procedures for dealing with disclosures and to inform all employees and workers about such. Also there is a duty to investigate any protected disclosure. President Zuma alluded to these whistle blower safeguards in his State of Nation Address.
If occupational is proven in a court of law, then employers will then be liable for “detriment or victimisation befalling an employee” and there will exist a liability for compensation and/or damages to the employee or worker, the draft states.
The kinds of “occupational detriment” from which the whistleblower is protected is also described, such as being subjected to any disciplinary action; being dismissed, suspended, demoted, harassed or intimidated; being transferred against his or her will; being refused transfer or promotion; being subjected to a term or condition of employment or retirement which is altered, or kept altered, to his or her disadvantage; and being refused a reference, or given an adverse reference.
At the same time, the proposals define more clearly the “irregularities” described by the anchor Act to which whistle blowing can apply, these now being defined as criminal offences; failure to comply with legal obligations; miscarriages of justice; the endangerment of the health or safety of individuals; damage to the environment; and unfair discrimination.
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