Serious Breach and Gross Mismanagement

The definition of wrongdoing under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act refers to a “serious breach” of a code of conduct, and to “gross mismanagement.” What is a “serious breach”? What is “gross mismanagement”?

The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act is intended to address forms of wrongdoing that, because of their scale or nature, have the potential to adversely affect public confidence in the integrity of public servants and public institutions. The PSDPA does not define “serious breach” or “gross mismanagement,” but there are several factors that may be considered in determining whether a particular matter meets the degree of severity suggested in the Act. These factors may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • The possible adverse impact on trust or confidence in the organization’s ability to carry out its mandate and fulfill its duties in the public interest;
  • The degree of departure from standards, policies, or accepted practices (in the case of a breach of a code, the degree of departure from the code itself);
  • The position, responsibilities and duties of an alleged wrongdoer (for example, there is a higher expectation of probity upon employees who hold positions of trust within the organization);
  • The degree of willfulness, deliberateness or recklessness involved, including any malicious intent to cause harm or purposely engage in wrongdoing;
  • The nature and /or frequency of the actions (for example, whether they are isolated, systemic, endemic or repetitive or ongoing);
  • The potential consequences of the actions on the well-being, health or safety of others or the environment and/or
  • Serious efforts that are not debatable amongst reasonable people.

Given that all the situations are different, they should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If you are uncertain of your assessment of a particular situation, please contact the Senior Officer for Disclosure designated within your organization. If there is no Senior Officer for Disclosure designated within your organization, please contact the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada, which offers a safe, confidential and independent mechanism for public servants or members of the public to disclose possible wrongdoing in the federal public sector.

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