Protecting Employees Against Reprisals

As a supervisor, there may be a time when an employee comes to you with a concern, to ask advice about an ethical issue or to report something they have seen in the workplace. In all of these situations, you play an important role in helping employees feel supported and are responsible for protecting them from reprisal.

Taking steps to protect employees from reprisals encourages them to speak up when they see something wrong.

If an employee makes a complaint under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) or the Standards of Conduct, they must be protected from reprisal. Under PIDA, committing a reprisal against an employee is considered an offence and subject to penalty.

Understanding Reprisals

Reprisals can include any action taken in retaliation for a disclosure that has an adverse effect on an employee’s employment situation.  Examples include:

  • Demotion or termination of employment
  • Unreasonable performance management
  • Not being promoted
  • Missing out on professional development activities
  • Physical harm to employees or their property
  • Withholding of information that the employee needs to do their job

Supervisors’ Responsibilities

Promote a workplace culture in which reporting of wrongdoings is encouraged

Supervisors should take a proactive approach so employees feel that reporting a wrongdoing is valued and encouraged. As a supervisor, you can take the following steps:

  • Remind employees of their obligations under the Standards of Conduct to report incidents of bullying, breaches of the Standards of Conduct, and wrongdoing
  • Remind employees that when they do choose to report wrongdoing, they are protected from reprisal when they report in good faith
  • Remind people that reprisals under PIDA and the Standards of Conduct are unacceptable, and in some cases, against the law
  • Provide employees with access to training on ethics and conflict management

Maintain confidentiality

One of the best ways you can prevent a reprisal is to limit the number of people who know about the complaint. It is everyone’s responsibility to maintain confidentiality. The identity of everyone involved in a complaint must be protected to the fullest extent possible. This includes the person who made the complaint, any witnesses and the person(s) alleged to have committed the wrongdoing.

Some strategies for maintaining confidentiality include:

  • Meet with employees in a private location (particularly if it is not common practice to meet with employees regularly)
  • Keep any written information in a secure location, for example in a locked drawer or in a place on the LAN that is only accessible to you
  • Mark meetings as “private” in your calendar
  • Be mindful of your surroundings when you are discussing the incident. For example, when you are on the phone, ensure that you are in a private location

Check in with the employee

It is important that employees feel supported when they come forward to talk about a workplace concern. There are several resources available for employees, including short-term counselling through Employee & Family Assistance Services.

If an employee has disclosed wrongdoing to you, it is important that you follow up with them to check in and see how they are doing, and what support they may need.

If the Identity of the Discloser Becomes Known

There may be times during an investigation where the identity of the person who made the complaint is suspected or becomes known due to the specifics of the situation.

If that is the case, it is important for supervisors to clearly explain that reprisals are not acceptable and could result in discipline. Supervisors should also clearly explain that in some cases, reprisals are against the law. Under PIDA, people who commit reprisals where a disclosure has been made or advice has been sought can face a fine of $25,000 for the first offence and up to $100,000 for every subsequent offence.