Reporting and Acting on Wrongdoing in New Zealand Organisations

One of New Zealand’s strengths in conducting business is the high regard in which New Zealand government and business organisations are held for their honesty and integrity. Serious wrongdoing, when it does occur, can cause significant damage to business, our State services and New Zealand’s reputation. It can undermine both the confidence of the public in the organisation and the trust of employees in their colleagues.

While many organisations have policies and systems to prevent and detect serious wrongdoing, the people who work within an organisation may sometimes be in the best position to detect wrongdoing. In some cases, wrongdoing can’t be detected unless it is reported by an employee who witnessed it.

Notifying concerns of serious wrongdoing can be critical to the welfare of an organisation and its employees. Despite this fact, not all suspected wrongdoing in or by an organisation gets reported. One of the biggest hurdles to reporting is the reluctance of employees to make a report, due to not knowing the organisation’s policy for reporting, fear of retaliation, or not being confident that the report will go to someone in the organisation who can do something about it.

Organisations that have an “if in doubt, speak up” culture are more likely to avoid the worst effects of serious wrongdoing, by encouraging prompt reporting which enables prompt remedial action to be taken. An “if in doubt, speak up” culture can also act as a deterrent to wrongdoers, so that wrongdoing is less likely to occur in the first place.

Protected Disclosures Act 2000

In 2000 the New Zealand Parliament recognised the importance of the reporting of suspected serious wrongdoing in organisations with the enactment of the Protected Disclosures Act ("the Act"). The Act aims to facilitate speaking up about suspected serious wrongdoing so that the organisation can do something about it.

The Act requires public sector organisations to operate internal procedures for receiving and dealing with reports of serious wrongdoing and to publish and republish these procedures at regular intervals. The Act also provides some statutory protections to those who report suspected serious wrongdoing. These protections are available to current and past employees in the public and private sector who follow the Act’s processes.

Role of the State Services Commissioner

The State Services Commission administers the Protected Disclosures Act 2000. The State Services Commissioner is an “appropriate authority” to whom a protected disclosure can be made in certain situations (s 9 of the Act) or to whom the Ombudsman can refer an investigation (s 15 of the Act).

Role of the Ombudsman

The Ombudsman has a statutory role to provide information and guidance on the use of the Act, in addition to carrying out certain other functions. Below is a link to the Ombudsman’s guidance on how to use the Act

To contact the Office of the Ombudsman for guidance and advice about making a protected disclosure, see the link below:

Protected Disclosure Act 2000

View the Protected Disclosure Act 2000 online at:

Agency Protected Disclosures Policy

Some people may be reluctant to use an organisation’s protected disclosures policy to report suspected wrongdoing if they are unsure whether what they suspect could be considered to be “serious wrongdoing”. Subject to natural justice requirements, organisations may want to consider offering confidentiality to all who report suspected wrongdoing. Organisations can provide their staff with a similar level of confidentiality as is provided in the Act, whether or not the wrongdoing is regarded as “serious”. For a discussion of some of the challenges in creating a successful protected disclosures policy for your organisation, see the material below.

 

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