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Recruitment 101: Whistleblowing in the healthcare workplace

August 11, 2021 0 Comments

Whistleblowing is in ensuring organisations remain good corporate citizens, so it’s important for healthcare employees to have a basic understanding of what is involved.

During the healthcare recruitment process, we are sometimes asked by candidates about the whistleblowing policy of the organisation they are interviewing for.

This does not reflect that the candidate thinks poorly of the organisation, and as recruiters, we certainly don’t look down upon the candidate for asking the question. If anything, it shows the candidate is really serious about the role by doing their due diligence to ensure the organisation is the right cultural fit for them and is complying with the law. But there are a range of matters to consider around whistleblowing, legal and otherwise.

What is whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing occurs when staff working in an organisation become aware of any activity that appears to be negligent, criminal, unsafe or, particularly pertinent to healthcare organisations, malpractice.

However, even with whistleblowing legislation in place, employees can be reluctant to become a whistleblower. Research shows that this is related to some simple facts:

  • 33% of people who raised concerns at work were dismissed.
  • 22% were victimised or faced disciplinary action by their employer.
  • 37% of employers denied there was a problem.
  • Only 10% of cases were resolved by the employer.

Whistleblowing and the law

To combat reluctance by offering protection to whistleblowers, Australia introduced new laws just a few years ago.

In 2019, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Act 2019 No.10 (Cth) (the Amending Act) came into force. It consolidated and strengthened corporate and financial sector whistleblower schemes previously contained under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (Corporations Act), the Banking Act 1959 (Cth), the Insurance Act 1973 (Cth) and the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 (Cth).

This new legislation allowed for ‘protected disclosures’ in the corporate and financial sectors, but also, operating in conjunction with relevant Public Interest Disclosure legislation both at a Commonwealth and State level, had ramifications for the public sector. Importantly, it also set up a requirement that there must be a whistleblower policy in place clearly outlining an organisation’s whistleblowing process.

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The AHHA: A clear example of a healthcare whistleblowing policy

As many working in the healthcare sector will already know, the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) is Australia’s national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals and healthcare providers. 

The AHHA positions itself as “uniquely placed to be an independent, national voice for universal high-quality healthcare to benefit the whole community.” Complying with its whistleblower protection policy requirements, the AHHA has a very clear whistleblower policy readily available on its website based on the following principles:

  • Every employee or eligible person should have the chance to speak up anonymously when they feel the organisation is not adhering to its corporate values. 
  • They should have a place to report misconduct and be assured that every report will be heard and acted on and that improvements based on the results will be implemented.
  • AHHA is committed to protecting informants’ identities and they only need to reveal their identity should they choose to do so.
  • Every report of misconduct will be investigated and the results will be documented and feedback provided where appropriate.

It also succinctly outlines the main aspects of the policy, namely:

  • Policy and the behaviour covered under it.
  • Definition of an eligible person.
  • Investigation process.
  • Retaliation.
  • Roles and responsibilities in the program.

This policy framework offers an excellent understanding of what a well-thought-out whistleblower policy looks like, while also giving a glimpse into the workplace culture of the organisation.

What to consider

As well as understanding an organisation’s specific policy, there are some general considerations you should take into account before proceeding with a whistleblowing action, namely:

  1. Ensure you have a valid case as per the policy.
  2. Make the report through the correct channel(s).
  3. Act when the reportable incident occurs rather than wait until you have more evidence.
  4. Escalate concerns to others either inside or outside of the organisation if needed.
  5. Remember, the law is designed to protect you.
  6. Consider the moral and financial implications.

Please note: This blog post and its contents are for informational purposes only and should NOT be construed as legal advice and as a substitute for legal advice. It should NOT be relied upon as such. Please contact your peak organisation or a solicitor to fully understand your rights, obligations and the implications of any whistleblowing.

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