A whistle-blower is a person, who reports or publicly exposes information about wrongdoing associated with its work in an organisation (a company or public institution). The wrongdoing can consist of illegal or otherwise inappropriate (unethical, unfair, discriminatory, etc.) activities, which can be harmful to the public interests (e.g. environment, public health, consumer safety, public finance) – and indirectly also to private interests. Whistle-blowers have in the past revealed some of the largest wrongdoings in various organisations.
Countries around the globe are starting to recognize the effectiveness of whistle-blowers and are therefore introducing legal protections for their activities. The European Union followed suit by adopting, on 7. 10. 2019, the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law.
The Directive will need to be implemented into national legal systems by the EU member states within two years. Main features of the Directive include:
- Certain organisations – among them all companies with 50 or more employees – will be obliged to create internal reporting channels. Such channels (e.g. dedicated phone lines or e-mail addresses) will need to be established and operated in a manner that ensures the confidentiality of the whistle-blower and any third party mentioned in the report.
- New rules will protect a large number of profiles, including all those who acquire information on breaches in a work-related context. Moreover, the new rules will have a wide scope of application, as they will cover areas such as public procurement, financial services, prevention of money laundering, public health, etc.
- The rules introduce safeguards to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation, such as suspension, demotion and intimidation. Those assisting whistle-blowers, such as colleagues and relatives are also protected.
- Organisations will be obliged to give feedback, by responding and following-up to whistle-blowers’ reports, normally within 3 months.
Whistle-blower protection system can significantly contribute to the development of a healthy corporate culture in your organisation – and it is of vital importance for you to set up and operate (efficient and legally compliant) system.