Former Oil Search CFO, Ayten Saridas, has issued proceedings in the NSW Supreme Court. She alleges widespread bullying and harassment by Oil Search’s CEO and incumbent CFO forced her to leave her job after she raised concerns about funding issues that were allegedly hidden from the company’s board.
As part of her claim, she has also confirmed she made formal reports of misconduct against the CEO to Oil Search’s Chairman and that Chairman leaked the report to the CEO, in breach of whistleblower protection laws.
How Australian laws protect whistleblowers
Australian whistleblower protection laws provide that when a report of misconduct is made to one of the company eligible recipients – which includes every member of the Board – that person must not disclose the identity of the whistleblower to any other person without the whistleblower’s consent.
Identifying a whistleblower without their consent can lead to fines of more than $1 million for an individual and $10 million for a company.
The whistleblower laws also impose a reverse onus of proof on companies to prove that they have not caused harm to an employee because they have reported concerns about misconduct. In the context of Ms Saridas’ claim, this would require Oil Search to demonstrate that the bullying and harassment which forced her to resign from her role was not taken in response to her disclosure.
Australian whistleblower laws are relatively new, caming into effect in November 2019, so they haven’t been rigorously tested in court. That’s why this case is one to watch for both employers and senior executives.
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