The European Parliament reached an agreement for EU-wide whistleblower protections on 16th April 2019. Following the formal adaptation of the directive by the EU Council on October 7 2019, a two-year implementation period begins during which time EU member states will be obliged to implement the directive into their own national laws until 2021. 5 Facts About the New EU Whistleblower Directive:
- The European Union Regulation protects whistleblowers who report a violation of EU law. This includes, for example, legal violations such as tax fraud, money laundering, or data protection violations.
- The regulation not only affects employees, but also protects trainees, volunteers, and self-employed workers.
- The EU Directive requires companies with more than 50 employees to take measures to protect whistleblowers and to establish confidential whistleblower channels and clear reporting processes.
- Whistleblowers are encouraged to report observations first through internal channels. Depending on the circumstances of the case, whistleblowers may also contact the competent national authorities or the competent EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies. In addition, whistleblowers can also approach the public and the media with impunity if, for example, no appropriate action has been taken after the initial report to the company or the authorities, or if there is an immediate or obvious threat to the public interest.
- Whistleblowers (and their supporters, such as colleagues or family members) benefit from special legal protection against all forms of retaliation (such as dismissal, degradation or intimidation). Additionally, they are given access to legal, financial, and psychological support.
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The EU whistleblowing rules give whistleblowers the flexibility to contact internal hotlines within the company first or go directly to external bodies (authorities, journalists, the public). From the company's point of view, however, it is desirable to obtain information internally first as much as possible. In this way, it is possible to react at an early stage and potentially deal with misconduct before the public becomes aware of it. Professional, internal handling of information thus helps to avoid reputational damage and financial risks.
Benefits of internal reporting
Given the flexibility in the choice of reporting channels, companies will now be required to make internal reporting as simple and attractive as possible. Most importantly, this includes the establishment of internal reporting channels that provide security and, ideally, anonymity to whistleblowers. Only then will whistleblowers be motivated to turn to internal departments first.
Finding the right reporting channel
There are many options when it comes to choosing an internal reporting channel: the most common include letterboxes, email, ombudsmen, telephone hotlines and digital whistleblowing systems. Compliance experts are increasingly recommending digital whistleblowing systems, particularly because of the security and anonymity that they can offer. They are also easy for whistleblowers to access, regardless of location, which makes this reporting channel even more attractive.
Ensure that your employees can report grievances and misconduct within your organization. To do this, set up a confidential and secure whistleblower system that also supports your ability to efficiently handle cases. Make sure that the system also complies with current data protection regulations such as GDPR.
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Clarify which departments are responsible for handling cases and how internal investigations are conducted. In addition, train your colleagues on how to manage reporting channels.
Inform your employees in advance about the introduction of the reporting channel. Ensure that all employees know how to report grievances confidentially. Include whistleblower channel communication in your onboarding training and regularly remind your staff of the reporting process.
- Until now, whistleblowers were sufficiently protected in only a few EU member states.
- The lack of clear protective mechanisms has meant that only a few employees have been prepared to report grievances in companies.
- In April 2018, the EU Commission therefore launched a proposal for a directive aimed at providing uniform protection for whistleblowers.
- Since April 2018, negotiators from the EU states and the European Parliament had been discussing the proposal submitted in April. A "provisional agreement" was reached on 11th March 2019.
- The European Parliament adopted regulations for EU-wide whistleblower protection on April 16, 2019.