The recently published EU Whistleblower Directive is due to come into force in 2021 in order to harmonise the procedures for whistleblowing and also the protection for whistleblowers. Unlike the USA, it does not provide for financial rewards for whistleblowers.
Currently less than half of the EU member states have comprehensive whistleblower legislation and the increase in corporate scandals and examples of retaliation against whistleblowers in the EU has forced the legislators to implement appropriate law.
The Whistleblower Directive lays down minimum standards for the protection of persons reporting on breaches of EU law and applies to “reporting persons” in both the public and private sector who have acquired reportable information in the workplace.
Reporting persons include not only employees but also self-employed persons, board members, shareholders, volunteers and former employees.
The Whistleblower Directive also affords protection to “facilitators” who are people that assist the reporting person.
In order to be afforded protection, the reporting person must have reasonable grounds to believe that the information is true at the time of reporting and falls within the scope of the Whistleblower Directive.
Businesses with 50 employees or more will be required to set up internal reporting channels and a policy in respect of reporting on breaches but some smaller organisations may also have to comply in the more highly regulated sectors.
Whilst the Whistleblower Directive requires internal reporting to be the prime mechanism, it also anticipates that external reporting channels with relevant regulators can be authorised.
If a reporting person believes that they may be subject to retaliation or having made a report realises no action is going to be taken then he or she can go public and still be protected.
Each EU Member State will have to implement the Whistleblower Directive into national law and whilst the likelihood is that there will be a level playing field it is still possible that each Member State may have local variations.
However, in anticipation of 2021, organisations should revisit their existing whistleblower policy, consider the implications of other laws such as employment and also data protection and review their contracts with any third party hotline provider.