“Moving forward of course, this will ensure that employees feel 100 per cent comfortable in bringing forward a concern.”
After a year of crafting, the City of Regina is set to launch a new whistleblower policy for city staff this March.
“Society’s changed,” city manager Chris Holden said in an interview this week. “With access to information, all of the things that get reported on social media, I think there’s more … need now for employers to … assure their employees that if they come forward, there will be confidentiality and that there will not be reprisal.”
Holden said the creation of the policy was not prompted by concerns or complaints from city staff. It’s simply time.
It will enable employees to report wrongdoing related to the city in a confidential manner. Complaints will be reported to the city manager who will determine the best approach to move forward to “independently and objectively” investigate the complaint. It’s at the city manager’s discretion to appoint a senior city staff member or an independent third party to investigate, depending on the seriousness of the complaint.
The policy prohibits anyone from “taking any action in reprisal” against an employee making a report. Holden said the city has mechanisms in place for employees to bring forward concerns, but the whistleblower policy adds a new layer of protection and confidentiality.
“Moving forward of course, this will ensure that employees feel 100 per cent comfortable in bringing forward a concern,” he said.
Compared to other cities, Regina is following the lead of some of Canada’s major cities.
The City of Victoria adopted a whistleblower policy in 2013, and Calgary and Edmonton in 2017. Winnipeg and Toronto also have policies in place, but Saskatoon is still in the process of implementing one.
“Administration is currently finalizing a report on a disclosure or ‘whistle-blower’ policy,” said a statement from the City of Saskatoon. The report is expected to be available for discussion early this year.
Regina’s whistleblower policy, as well as a new theft and fraud policy have already been approved by city administration (city policies are not subject to council approval), but will not be implemented until March 1 so the city can roll out an updated code of conduct at the same time.
The current employee code has not been updated since 2002. Administration has recommended provisions be modernized and moved from a bylaw to a corporate policy approved by the city manager, who is responsible for employee discipline. According to administration, corporate policies are easier to update and can provide more explanation, guidance and examples than a bylaw.
On Wednesday, executive committee will vote on whether or not to repeal the Regina Code of Conduct and Disclosure Bylaw in order implement it as a policy instead, as recommended. Holden said this will allow administration to be more “agile and responsive,” instead of going through the lengthy process to get council approval to amend the bylaw.
The updated code sets out guidelines around conflict of interest, interactions with others, management of information, outside employment/business interests, and accepting gifts.
Reports made under the whistleblower policy can be made through an e-mail address, a mailbox or telephone number — all confidential — which the city is in the process of establishing for March.
Holden said city employees will receive education to update them on the new policy and guidelines around when it should be used or not. He said employees have responsibility to make sure they aren’t bringing forward frivolous or unsubstantiated complaints.
“Everybody needs to understand that this is serious business and we’re going to take it very seriously,” he said.
If a report of wrongdoing concerns the city manager or a member of the city manager’s office, the employee will submit a report to the city solicitor instead, who will appoint a designate to conduct the investigation.
“It will be very interesting in that first year what type of a response is there to the policy and how many concerns and complaints come forward,” said Holden.