Administrative Procedure 407

AP 407 - Public Interest Disclosure Act (Whistleblower Protection)

Background

Palliser Regional Schools (“Palliser”) is committed to the highest standard of ethical and accountable conduct, and recognizes the importance of working to deter and detect Wrongdoing within the operations of Palliser, and to promote public confidence in the administration of Palliser.  To ensure this, Palliser is committed to maintaining a positive and supportive environment whereby employees can disclose potential Wrongdoing, or seek advice about disclosing a potential Wrongdoing, without retribution, and are provided with clear guidance for how those disclosures may take place. 

Palliser Regional Schools expects that all employees will notify their supervisor or the Associate Superintendent of Human Resources of any potential Wrongdoing within the operation of Palliser.  And that the supervisor or Associate Superintendent of Human Resources will investigate such reports without impedance, providing a summary of their findings to the Superintendent, Board Chair or the Commissioner of Public Interest as appropriate. 

Under the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act (PIDA), an employee of Palliser may make a disclosure of a Wrongdoing, which Palliser will investigate in accordance with these procedures. Under PIDA, no person may make reprisals against an employee for making a disclosure, seeking advice about making a disclosure, or taking any other steps under PIDA, so long as the employee is acting in good faith. 

Palliser is required under section 5(1) of PIDA to establish and maintain, in accordance with PIDA, written procedures for managing and investigating disclosures by employees of Palliser. Those written procedures are set out herein. 

Scope

It is very important to understand that the purpose and scope of this Administrative Procedure is limited disclosure and reporting of specifically defined very serious Wrongdoing pursuant to the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act (PIDA). The five types of specific Wrongdoing to which this Administrative Procedure applies are define and outlined in Definition 8 below.

For concerns or issues arising which an employee wishes to report and to be reviewed that did not fall within this very specific and serious type of Wrongdoing, it is important to understand that this Policy does not apply. However, Palliser has in place numerous other policies and procedures under which complaints of other forms of concerns can and should be raised through the appropriate chain of supervisory responsibility. Any employee of Palliser that is unsure of the proper policy or procedure applying to any concern an employee may have, should feel free to seek clarification from their supervisor and/or the Associate Superintendent of Human Resources.

Definitions

  1. “chief officer” means the Superintendent of schools;
  2. “commissioner” means the Public Interest Commissioner appointed under PIDA;
  3. “designated officer” means the Associate Superintendent of Human Resources as designated below to manage and investigate disclosures under PIDA;
  4. “disclosure” means a disclosure of Wrongdoing made in good faith by an employee under PIDA and this procedure;
  5. “employee” means an individual employed by Palliser;
  6. “PIDA” means the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act;
  7. “reprisal” means any adverse employment action taken against an employee who seeks advice on making a disclosure, makes a disclosure, or co-operates in an investigation of Wrongdoing, or declines to participate in a Wrongdoing in accordance with PIDA.  Examples of reprisal include dismissal, layoff, suspension, demotion or transfer, discontinuation or elimination of a job, transfer, reduction in wages, change in hours of work or reprimand, any other measure that adversely affects the employee’s employment or working conditions (e.g., bullying), and threats to do any of the above;
  8. “Wrongdoing” means:
    1. a contravention of an Alberta or Federal Act and/or regulation,
    2. an act or omission that creates:
      1. a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of  individuals other than a danger that is inherent in the  performance of the duties or functions of an employee, or
      2. a substantial and specific danger to the environment, 
    3. gross mismanagement of public funds or a public asset, and;
    4. knowingly directing or counselling an individual to commit a Wrongdoing mentioned above.
  9. The Associate Superintendent of Human Resources is designated as the designated officer for the purpose of PIDA. 

Procedures

  1. Receipt of Disclosures
    1. Employees seeking advice on potential disclosure under PIDA and this    policy shall be referred to the designated officer, who shall provide the employee with information on PIDA, this procedure, the requirements of PIDA and this procedure, and other alternative processes for resolution of the employee’s concern.
    2. Employees shall make disclosures for the purposes of PIDA and this procedure to the designated officer, utilizing the PIDA Disclosure Form (Form 450-1).
    3. Disclosures shall provide:
      1. the name of the disclosing employee;
      2. a description of the Wrongdoing;
      3. the name of the individual or individuals alleged
        1. to have committed the Wrongdoing, or
        2. to be about to commit the Wrongdoing;
      4. the date of the Wrongdoing.
    4. The designated officer shall acknowledge receipt of the disclosure to the employee making the disclosure within 5 business days from receipt of the disclosure.
  2. Preliminary Handling of Disclosures
    1. Where the designated officer is of the opinion that the subject matter of a disclosure would be more appropriately be dealt with by a Department of the Government of Alberta, an office of the Legislature, or another public entity, the designated officer shall report the subject matter of the disclosure to the designated officer of that other entity.
    2. Where an alternative process exists for the handling of the subject matter of the disclosure under:
      1. another policy or procedure of Palliser for example, Administrative Procedure 151 – Parent/Public Inquiries and Concerns, 171 – Harassment of Students or Employees, 352 – Bullying Behavior in Schools, 353 – Student Investigations, 354 – Damage to School Property, 356 – Alcohol and Drugs; 411 – Teacher growth, Supervision and Evaluation and any other applicable administrative procedure of Palliser;
      2. another Act or regulation (for example, human rights or occupational health and safety legislation), or
      3. procedures under a collective agreement or employment contract, and the designated officer is of the opinion that the subject matter of the disclosure would be more appropriately dealt with under that alternative process, the designated officer may refer the disclosing employee to those procedures.
    3. Where the disclosure:
      1. is clearly frivolous or vexatious, has not been made in good faith, has not been made in a timely enough manner to permit an investigation, or does not deal with a Wrongdoing,
      2. relates to a decision, action or matter that results from a balanced and informed decision-making process on a public policy or operational issue, or
      3. does not provide adequate particulars about the Wrongdoing to permit the conduct of a fair and effective investigation the designated officer may decline to investigate the disclosure. 
    4. If more than one disclosure is made of a single Wrongdoing, the designated officer may conduct a single investigation into the Wrongdoing.
    5. The designated officer shall advise the employee making the disclosure whether the disclosure will or will not be investigated within 10 business days from receipt of the disclosure.
  3. Mandatory Disclosures to Others
    1. If the designated officer reasonably believes that the matter to which the disclosure relates constitutes an imminent risk of a substantial or specific danger to the life, health or safety of individuals, or to the environment, the designated officer shall as soon as reasonably practicable refer the disclosure to the Commissioner.
    2. Notwithstanding whether a disclosure is referred to the Commissioner, where the designated officer is aware of:
      1. a disclosure relating to an imminent risk of a substantial or specific danger to the life, health or safety of individuals, or to the environment, or
      2. that the alleged Wrongdoing, if true, may threaten the welfare of students, staff, or the safe and caring environment of the school, the designated officer shall also ensure that appropriate persons within Palliser have sufficient information to act to abate that risk.
    3.  Where, at any point following a disclosure, the designated officer has reason to believe that the alleged Wrongdoing, if true, could potentially give rise to the Superintendent being of the opinion that the welfare of students is threatened by the presence of the teacher, the designated officer shall advise the Superintendent of the alleged Wrongdoing for consideration of a possible administrative suspension under section 105(2) of the School Act. 
    4. Where in the course of an investigation the designated officer has reason to believe that an offence has been committed under an Act or regulation of the Province of Alberta, or the Parliament of Canada, the designated officer shall report the potential offence to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.
  4. Investigations
    1. The designated officer shall conduct all investigations in accordance with the principals of natural justice and procedural fairness.
    2. The designated officer may utilize internal personnel and resources, and may retain outside personnel or resources, for the purpose of conducting the investigation.
    3. The designated officer, and any person conducting an investigation on their behalf, may interview any person and shall have access to any documents of Palliser necessary for the investigation.
    4. Where, in the course of an investigation, the designated officer has reason to believe that another Wrongdoing has been committed or may be committed, the designated officer shall investigate that other potential Wrongdoing as if a disclosure had been made.
  5. Report
    1. The designated officer shall provide a written investigation report to the chief officer detailing whether the disclosure was substantiated, and providing recommendations on corrective action.
    2. The investigation shall be completed and the written investigation report provided to the chief officer no later than 110 business days from the date the disclosure was received.
    3. Where the designated officer is considering a recommendation to the Superintendent that the Superintendent exercise authority delegated to them by the Board of Trustees to suspend or terminate a teacher or administrative designation, under the School Act, the designated officer shall consult with other Palliser staff typically responsible for such recommendations concerning the necessary process.  In such event, the written investigation report shall be provided to the Superintendent in the course of any process under the School Act for the Superintendent to consider that recommendation.
    4. The chief officer shall consider the recommendations in the investigation report, and shall be responsible for determining what action, if any, including disciplinary action, shall be either taken as a result or recommended to the Board of Trustees.  The chief officer shall follow-up with the employees responsible to ensure those actions are taken.  
    5. The person making the complaint shall be advised when the investigation is completed, the recommendations made in the written investigation report, and the chief officer’s actions resulting from the written investigation report, understanding that some details and specific actions with respect to specific employees of Palliser may be prevented from specific disclosure given the requirement for Palliser to also adhere to the confidentiality of personnel information pursuant to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and its regulations.  
  6. Extensions of Timelines
    1. The designated officer may request of the chief officer, and the chief officer may grant, extensions of timelines within this policy, provided that the total extensions granted do not extend the overall time period for investigation and provision of the investigation report by more than 30 business days.
    2. The chief officer may request permission from the Commissioner to extend timelines for a longer period.
    3. In the event of an extension of a timeline, the designated officer shall promptly advise the person who submitted a disclosure of Wrongdoing when he or she may expect the next procedural step to occur or be completed.
  7. Conflicts of Interest / Disclosures about the Chief Officer
    1. In the event the designated officer is in a conflict of interest with respect to the nature of the disclosure or any person involved in the disclosure or alleged Wrongdoing, the designated officer shall request the chief officer to designate an alternative designated officer for the disclosure.  The alternative designated officer shall have all the powers of the designated officer for the purpose of the disclosure.
    2. In the event of a disclosure to the designated officer concerning the conduct of the chief officer, or concerning which the chief officer has a conflict of interest, the designated officer shall:
      1. advise the Board Chair of the nature of the disclosure, whereupon the Board of Trustees may authorize an investigation into the disclosure;
      2. advise the Commissioner of the disclosure and its referral to the Board of Trustees, and seek advice from the Commissioner concerning whether the disclosure should be referred to the Commissioner. 
  8. Confidentiality
    1. The designated officer shall ensure all disclosures, and information gathered in the course of investigating disclosures, including the identity of the person making the disclosure, those alleged to have committed the Wrongdoing and witnesses, are maintained in confidence and disclosed only:
      1. as necessary for this procedure and to conduct the investigation in accordance with the principles of procedural fairness and natural justice;
      2. in accordance with PIDA or any other statute;
      3. the disclosure of that information is necessary due to an imminent risk of a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of individuals, or to the environment.
  9. Reprisals
    1. If an employee has alleged that a reprisal as described by PIDA has taken place or been directed, they should immediately report this to the designated officer.
    2. The employee may:
      1. Request that the designated officer offer a resolution; or
      2. Pursue recourse actions under a collective agreement; or 
      3. Pursue recourse actions under PIDA.
  10. Annual Reporting
    1. The Annual Education Results Report of Palliser will include the following statistics on this procedure:
      1. the number of disclosures received by the designated officer, the number of disclosures acted on and the number of disclosures not acted on by the designated officer;
      2. the number of investigations commenced by the designated officer as a result of disclosures;
      3. in the case of an investigation that results in a finding of Wrongdoing, a description of the Wrongdoing and any recommendations made or corrective measures taken in relation to the Wrongdoing or the reasons why no corrective measure was taken. 

References

The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act, RSA 2012

The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Regulation