The Whistleblower Protection Act (“Whistleblower Act”) — part of Serbia’s effort to fight corruption and create comprehensive protection for whistleblowers — came into full effect on June 5, 2015. The Whistleblower Act protects whistleblowers, irrespective of whether they are employed in the public or private sector, from retaliation by their employer when they reveal information about their employer relating to a violation of regulations, a violation of human rights, an abuse of public authority, or the endangerment of life, public health, safety and environment, as well as for the purpose of preventing the occurrence of substantial damage.
Also on June 5, 2015, the Serbian Ministry of Justice issued the Decree on Internal Whistleblowing Procedures, which provides several additional rules for the implementation of the internal procedures when dealing with whistleblowers within a company.
Under the Whistleblower Act, employers in Serbia must:
- deliver to all employees a written notification about their rights under the Whistleblower Act (protection against retaliation, protection of anonymity etc.);
- appoint a person authorised to receive whistleblowing claims and to manage the internal whistleblowing procedure (“Ombudsman”); and
- adopt a rulebook for the internal whistleblowing procedure (this applies only to employers that have more than 10 employees).
Please note that even though the Whistleblower Act prescribes that employers subject to these requirements (i.e., those having more than 10 employees) have until December 2015 to adopt a rulebook on internal whistleblowing procedures, we recommend that this be done as soon as possible. This is because the Whistleblower Act provides for the immediate application (as of the law’s implementation date) of the obligation to notify employees about their rights under the Whistleblower Act, as well as the duty to appoint an Ombudsman. The aforementioned notification needs to set out, among others, the employee’s rights in the course of an internal whistleblowing procedure, as well as that the key task of the Ombudsman is to manage this procedure. Therefore, in practice, it does not seem that the purpose of such notification and appointment can be achieved without an underlying procedure being fully set out in the form of the relevant rulebook.
Likely a very sensitive issue under the new whistleblower framework is the employer’s task to find the appropriate person to act as the Ombudsman. This person acts as the first point of contact for potential whistleblowers and has the delicate task of communicating with the employee who is making potentially incriminating accusations and must, on occasion, resolve conflicts and even hostile situations. At the same time, the Ombudsman must ensure that any accusations are handled carefully in-house for as long as possible, in order to minimise the risk of negative exposure for the company. Some whistleblowers will require anonymity, at least at the first stage. Therefore, introducing an external Ombudsman or at least an external hotline for receiving whistleblowing claims could potentially give employees an additional sense of protection and make them more forthcoming when presenting the facts of the case.
The whistleblowing legal framework does not prescribe an extensive set of rules for the internal whistleblowing procedure. Therefore, employers may set up an internal procedure that corresponds to their organisational structure and to the sensitivity of their business. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the best approach for your company when implementing the Whistleblower Act in Serbia.