Public sector whistleblower protection

Creates a safe avenue for public servants to speak out about wrongdoings or make complaints of reprisal.

Overview

The Government of Alberta supports a culture within the public sector that encourages employees and management to report significant and serious matters they believe may be unlawful, dangerous or harmful to the public interest. This culture is critical to ensuring public sector employees maintain the highest possible standards of honesty, openness, and accountability.

The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act  was amended (PDF, 540 KB) in 2017. This page includes elements which come into force on March 1, 2018. It is intended as a resource for the Alberta Public Service.

Alberta’s whistleblower legislation has been expanded. In addition to departments, it covers government offices (members of the Legislative Assembly, Office of the Premier and offices of a Minister), Offices of the Legislature, as well as public entities and prescribed service providers which are identified by regulation. More information about (and for) these entities is available on the Public Interest Commissioner website.

This page provides information on how:

  • whistleblowers are protected
  • reports of wrongdoing are received and investigated
  • to identify a wrongdoing
  • to identify a reprisal (punishment for reporting wrongdoing)
  • to report a wrongdoing
  • to report a reprisal

Protecting whistleblowers

The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act is in place to protect public sector employees and political staff from punishment if they:

  • disclose wrongdoing that is conducted against the public’s interest
  • seek advice or information about disclosing a wrongdoing from:
    • their supervisor,
    • the Designated Officer, or
    • the Public Interestcommissioner
  • co-operate in an investigation into wrongdoing
  • decline to participate in suspected wrongdoing

The legislation provides a process that protects Alberta public servants by ensuring:

  • confidentiality for those who seek advice about or make a disclosure*,
  • a clear process and set of timelines to guide employees when they disclose wrongdoing
  • a transparent process in place to support investigations
  • a strict set of penalties for those who commit a reprisal (punishment for reporting wrongdoing), obstruct an investigation, destroy records, or make false or misleading statements as part of an investigation, and
  • a broad range of remedies for employees who have experienced reprisal

* See the Whistleblower Protection Fact Sheet (PDF, 212 KB) to learn more about the Designated Officer, protections provided and procedures that must be followed.

The role of Alberta’s Public Interest Commissioner

The Public Interest Commissioner is an independent officer of the Alberta Legislature. They provide advice in relation to whistleblower protection and investigate disclosures of wrongdoing and complaints of reprisals made by employees to whom the act applies.  The Public Interest Commissioner has the right to access the necessary records and data needed to fully pursue their investigation.

The role of the Designated Officer for the Alberta Public Service

The whistleblower legislation allows for the appointment of a Designated Officer to manage and investigate disclosures,  including establishing an internal process to receive, manage, and investigate reports of wrongdoing.

The Alberta Public Service’s Designated Officer is appointed by the Public Service Commissioner and is responsible for:

  • receiving disclosures of wrongdoing and assessing whether or not to investigate
  • protecting the confidentiality and anonymity of public servants who make a disclosure
  • conducting investigations into allegations, where warranted
  • providing a written report to the Deputy Minister of the relevant department with recommendations to correct the wrongdoing
  • Alberta Public Service employees can confidentially seek advice about or report a potential wrongdoing to Tom Thackeray, who is the Designated Officer for the Alberta Public Service.

Tom Thackeray
6th Floor, 10011 109th Street
Edmonton, Alberta  T5J 3S8
Phone: 780-644-5602
Email: whistleblower@gov.ab.ca

Role of the Supervisor

In some circumstances, employees who are considering making a disclosure may wish to seek information or advice about reporting a wrongdoing directly from their supervisors.  In other cases, an employer’s policies or employees’ professional or legal obligations may require them to report certain conduct to their supervisor.  Reprisal protections are triggered as soon as an employee communicates with a supervisor about a potential disclosure.

Identify a wrongdoing

  • Wrongdoing, includes engaging in, or counseling or directing someone to engage in, the following: breaking the law through contravening an Act or regulation
  • any act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of individuals or substantial and specific danger to the environment
  • gross mismanagement of public funds, a public asset, or the delivery of a public service identified in the regulations
  • gross mismanagement of employees through conduct of a systemic nature that indicates a problem in an organization’s culture relating to bullying, harassment or intimidation.

Disclosures must relate to conduct that occurred after June 1, 2013 when the original whistleblower legislation came into force. The Public Interest Commissioner may decline to investigate disclosures that involve wrongdoing discovered more than two years before the disclosure.

Identify a reprisal

  • Employees are protected against reprisal for exercising their rights under or acting in accordance with the whistleblower legislation. Acts of reprisal include conduct that adversely affects an employee’s employment or working conditions, such as:
  • dismissal
  • layoff
  • suspension
  • demotion or transfer
  • discontinuation or elimination of a job
  • change to job location
  • reduction in pay
  • change in hours of work or reprimand
  • threats of any of the above actions

It is an offence to engage in acts of reprisal.  In addition, where the Public Interest Commissioner finds that reprisal has taken place, the Labour Relations Board may award the employees who have suffered reprisal further remedies, such as reinstatement, lost wages, or other damages.  Reprisal complaints must be directed to the Public Interest Commissioner.

Report a wrongdoing

If you are a member of the Alberta Public Service seeking to report a wrongdoing, follow the steps below.

Step 1. Determine the nature of your concern

Determine if your concern may be considered wrongdoing under the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act. If employees are unsure about whether conduct may be considered wrongdoing, they may seek information or advice from their supervisors, or may contact the Designated Officer or the Public Interest Commissioner.

The legislationonly applies to allegations involving workplace bullying, harassment or intimidation where the conduct is systemic in nature and affects the culture of an organization.   The whistleblower process is not intended to duplicate or replace processes that already exist to address workplace bullying and harassment, such as the Respectful Workplace Policy, the grievance process or the human rights complaint process, and employees should consider these processes first.

Step 2. Report the wrongdoing

If you wish to disclose a wrongdoing, submit your confidential complaint (DOC, 100 KB) to the Designated Officer, or directly to the Public Interest Commissioner if you so choose. Your protection from reprisal begins the moment you seek advice or information from your supervisor, a Chief Officer (usually a Deputy Minister), or the Designated Officer, or disclose the wrongdoing to the Designated Officer or the Public Interest Commissioner.  While employees considering making a disclosure may approach their supervisor for information and advice, supervisors do not accept or investigate disclosures.

Your disclosure will be acknowledged within five business days of receipt.

After you report

Your representative will review your disclosure to determine if an investigation is warranted. Decisions on conducting an investigation will be made within 10 days of receipt of your disclosure.

Resulting investigations and reports will be complete within 100 days of receipt.

If you are unsatisfied with the results

If you make a disclosure through your Designated Officer and are unsatisfied with the findings, you may make a subsequent disclosure to Alberta’s Public Interest Commissioner.

Report a reprisal

If you feel you have been the subject of a reprisal and wish to make a complaint, you must contact Alberta’s Public Interest Commissioner directly with a complaint. After the Public Interest Commissioner has investigated and found that a reprisal occurred, the Labour Relations Board can hold a hearing and award a number of reprisal remedies, including reinstatement, damages, and other monetary compensation including reimbursement of an employee’s legal fees.

Contact

Alberta Public Service’s Designated Officer
Email: Whistleblower@gov.ab.ca
Phone: 780-644-5602
Website: Alberta’s Public Interest Commissioner
Email: info@pic.alberta.ca
Toll free: 1-855-641-8659
Calgary: 403-592-3106
Edmonton: 780-641-8659