The third area of responsibility of the Ethics Officer relates to the protection of officials who believe that action has been taken against them because they have reported misconduct or cooperated with an audit or investigation (commonly called “whistleblower protection”). This protection aims to reinforce the opportunity for all officials to report cases where ethical standards have been disregarded, without fear of retaliation.
The Ethics Office does not, however, replace any existing mechanisms available to staff for the reporting of misconduct or the resolution of grievances. A number of those mechanisms are listed in the circular “Ethics and standards of conduct”.
As described in the circular, the Ethics Officer is called upon to make a preliminary review of complaints by officials who allege retaliation subsequent to their reporting of misconduct or cooperation with an audit or investigation. In such a case, the Ethics Officer has the following responsibilities:
- to keep a confidential record of all issues brought to his or her attention;
- to determine if the complainant has been engaged in a protected activity and if there is a prima facie case for concluding that the protected activity was a contributing factor in causing the alleged retaliation or threat of retaliation; and
- to refer the matter to HRS, where appropriate, for consideration of possible disciplinary action.
Should a complaint be lodged with the Ethics Officer alleging retaliation due to whistleblowing, there is the need to protect the rights of both the complainant and the alleged retaliator, ensuring the fairness and transparency of the whole procedure. It is especially important in such a sensitive situation to strictly follow the rules of natural justice and due process.