The new Law on Protection of Whistle-blowers entered into force on 1 January 2019. The law will apply to both public and private sectors and aims at creating conditions for individuals, including employees, to confidentially provide information about a suspected infringement and to avoid negative consequences related to whistleblowing. Individuals may disclose information about a criminal or administrative offence, inappropriate conduct by a colleague and other infringements that may affect the public interest. A whistle-blower is not required to be sure that the information is correct or to have evidence, which means that information may prove to be incorrect. However, even in that case the whistle-blower would enjoy legal protection. Of course, knowingly providing false information is prohibited and not protected.
Here below we provide an overview of the changes most relevant to employers.
Introducing an internal whistleblowing channel
Employers with 50 or more employees must introduce an internal whistleblowing channel (eg, a telephone hotline, intranet line, or designated e-mail address), through which employees can provide information about a possible infringement.
The channel should be administered by an assigned person or group of persons ‒ whose reputation is unquestionable ‒ appointed by the employer. They will be responsible for investigating information and taking a final decision.
Employers will have to inform employees about internal whistleblowing channels and a procedure for providing and considering information. Another requirement will be to establish internal procedures ensuring the confidentiality of information received and of employees who have provided that information.
An important aspect is that although employers with fewer than 50 employees need not introduce an internal whistleblowing channel, they must still comply with all other rules of whistle-blower protection (eg, the need to ensure the confidentiality of whistle-blowers and preventing negative impact on them).
Assurance of confidentiality
Employers must ensure the confidentiality of whistle-blowers. Neither the employer nor employees working for the employer may disclose the identity of a whistle-blower to anyone not involved in investigating information provided (sometimes including the managing director of the company).
Conduct of the investigation
Laws set the procedure and time limits for investigating information. The person assigned who has received information of an infringement must inform the whistle-blower that an investigation is under way and, once it is completed, about the result.
Guarantees to whistle-blowers
The Law guarantees specific protection to whistle-blowers. The employer must ensure that an employee who has provided information is protected from negative impact. This means that a whistle-blower may not be dismissed, transferred to a lower position or some other place of work, be intimidated, harassed, discriminated against, or threatened with retribution, nor is it allowed to limit their career opportunities, reduce their wages, change their working time, question their competence, or transmit negative information about them to other employees or take any other negative measures. If a whistle-blower claims that they have experienced negative impact, the employer must prove that the employee has not experienced such impact as a result of whistle-blowing.
What employers should do
- Those with 50 or more employees:
- introduce an internal whistleblowing channel;
- appoint someone in charge of receiving information and organising investigation;
- establish internal procedures as to receipt and investigation of information, assurance of the rights of whistle-blowers, and compliance with other requirements set by law. These procedures may be established either by a separate document or in the employee handbook or other internal documents.
- Informing personnel. We also recommend that employers inform their HR specialists, managers and team leaders about whistle-blower protection and about proper treatment of whistle-blowers. This will help reduce the probability that employees who have reported possible infringements will accuse the employer of attempting to take reprisals due to whistleblowing.