Speaking Out in the Public Interest: Whistleblowing and the scope and limits of employee free speech

Research has shown that whistleblowers provide the single most effective means of uncovering wrongdoing that undermines the public interest, but the fear of reprisals and blacklisting deters many from coming forward, and the few who do speak up often do so as a last resort. The past year alone has provided a number of examples of employees who have spoken out and suffered workplace consequences, ranging from a migrant worker who was dismissed after he raised concerns relating to his farm’s living and working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic to a physician who claimed that his contract as the interim director of a critical care unit was terminated following his public criticisms of the Ontario government’s pandemic response.

In this webinar, leading experts will discuss the protections that are available for whistleblowers, the shortcomings of current legislation, and measures that organizations and unions should take to protect workers to ensure that critical information is not suppressed, addressing issues such as the following:

– How has the term “whistleblower” been defined?
– What statutory protections exist in Canada for employees attempting to expose wrongdoing within their organizations? Have any provinces passed legislation that protects whistleblowers in the private sector? What are some other types of legislation or policies that include protection against reprisal for whistleblowers?
– What are some of the shortcomings or common criticisms of Canadian whistleblower legislation? Are there changes that should be made to make it more effective?
– Does speaking out in the public interest necessarily mean that the person is a whistleblower entitled to protection, or are there limitations such as a requirement that the conduct complained of constitutes an illegal act or jeopardizes the life, health, or safety of the public? What are some examples of conduct that have been held to meet this threshold?
– Is a worker required to exhaust any available internal mechanisms for redress before disclosing wrongdoing? Do they have to establish that their criticisms or concerns are valid in order to receive protection? Is good faith sufficient? Are whistleblowing workers still subject to discipline for violating confidentiality policies or their duty of loyalty to the employer?
– What are some elements that should be included in an organization’s whistleblower policy to increase its fairness and effectiveness?
– What role should unions play in this process? What measures can they take, both proactively and reactively, to protect their members from reprisals while ensuring that important information comes to light?