Public Interest Disclosure Act

Overview

The Public Interest Disclosure Act (SBC 2018, c 22) protects public sector employees who make a disclosure regarding a matter of public interest and serious wrongdoing in or relating to a ministry, office or government body. The Act prohibits any reprisals against an employee who has made a protected disclosure.

What kind of disclosure is protected?

The Act protects any employee who, while acting in good faith and on the basis of reasonable belief, has disclosed information regarding a wrongdoing that has been committed or is about to be committed to a supervisor, the designated officer of the relevant ministry, government body or office, or the Ombudsperson s.12(1)

Under the Act, a wrongdoing s.7(1) means:

  • a violation of any provincial or federal law;
  • an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety or persons or the environment;
  • a serious misuse of public funds or public assets;
  • gross or systemic mismanagement;
  • direction or counsel to others to engage in the above.

Under the Act, a designated officer s.1 is the senior official designated to receive and deal with disclosures under this Act.

Under the Act, an ombudsperson s.1 means the Ombudsperson appointed under The Ombudsperson Act.

Who is eligible for protection?

The Act protects employees or former employees of a ministry, government body or office who have disclosed information, in writing, regarding a wrongdoing.

DISCLOSURE TO THE PUBLIC

As an exception, if on reasonable grounds, an employee believes that there is insufficient time to make a disclosure based on an imminent risk of substantial and specific danger to the life, health, and safety of the public, they may make the disclosure to the public s.16(1). However, the employee must have first notified appropriate law enforcement authority, or, in the case of a health-related issue, the chief provincial public health officer.

Immediately following a public disclosure, the employee must disclose the matter to their supervisor or designated officer s.16(3)

How are whistleblowers protected?

The Act prohibits any person from taking any kind of reprisal against an employee who has made a protected disclosure. Any individual who knowingly takes any kind of reprisal against an employee is guilty of an offence and is liable to a fine up to $25 000 for the first offence, and 100 000 for a second or subsequent offence s.41(1)

Under the Act, a reprisal s.31(1) includes:

  • taking a disciplinary measure against the employee;
  • demoting the employee;
  • terminating the employment of the employee; 
  • taking any measure that adversely affects the employment or working conditions of the employee; or
  • making a threat to take any of the measures above.

How should disclosures be made?

Be careful! Despite presenting some challenges for follow ups, one of the best protections for whistleblowers is their anonymity. Be cautious when providing any information through electronic means, especially emails! Read the security tips section.

A disclosure must be in writing and sent by mail or by filling the online disclosure form. It must include the following information, if known to the employee:

  • a description of the wrongdoing;
  • the name of the person or persons alleged to
    • have committed the wrongdoing, or
    • be about to commit the wrongdoing;
  • the date of the wrongdoing; and
  • whether the wrongdoing has already been disclosed and a response received s.15.

When considering whether to make a disclosure, an employee may request advice from their supervisor, a designated officer or the Ombudsman s.11(1).

For additional information on how to disclose a wrongdoing, click here or contact the British Columbia Ombudsman.