The EU Whistleblowing Directive recently had its two-year anniversary. Rachel Mackey, Account Management Team Leader, at whistleblowing specialist Safecall assesses its impact and highlights some examples of implementation across Europe.
The EU Whistleblowing Directive has had a major impact on best practice in the workplace since this significant legislation was introduced in December 2021.
The transposition of the EU Whistleblowing Directive into national law has been met with a range of responses across EU member states. While some have taken steps towards fostering transparency and whistleblower protection, others face challenges and controversies.
Balancing the need for transparency, accountability, and protection for whistleblowers with concerns about potential abuses and chilling effects remains a complex task that requires ongoing evaluation and scrutiny. The journey towards robust whistleblower protection and ethical cultures in organisations continues across Europe.
Scope of protection
The EU Directive extends protection to a wide array of individuals, including current and former employees, directors, temporary and contract workers, freelancers, suppliers, shareholders, and even job applicants. It covers a broad spectrum of relationships, ranging from pre-contractual negotiations to those who have left their positions.
One of the Directive’s pivotal advancements is the expansion of whistleblower protection beyond the public sector. It now includes private companies with 50 or more employees, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and others. Moreover, it protects those who report breaches of EU law, spanning areas such as financial services, environmental protection, consumer protection, and public health.
Influencing best practices
The EU Whistleblowing Directive has had a profound impact on best practices in the workplace. Employers in the EU are advised to proactively prepare for whistleblowing compliance. Key steps include monitoring the progress of Directive implementation in each EU country, reviewing or establishing whistleblowing arrangements, and streamlining processes globally to ensure consistency and transparency.
Transposing the law: how have countries fared?
In January 2022, the European Commission issued formal notices to 24 member states for their inadequate transposition and communication of measures regarding the Directive. By July 2022, reasoned opinions were sent to 15 member states, with four more receiving them in September 2022 due to incomplete transposition. This unsatisfactory response from eight member states prompted the Commission to escalate the matter by referring these cases to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
In February 2023, the European Commission took decisive action against eight EU member states (Czechia, Germany, Estonia, Poland, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, and Hungary) for their failure to transpose the EU Whistleblowing Directive (Directive EU 2019/1937) into national law. Despite the December 17, 2021, deadline for compliance, some nations lagged behind. While some countries have embraced the directive with praise and criticism, others have faced challenges in meeting its provisions.
As of September 2023, all EU member states, except for two, had adopted legislation aligning with the EU Whistleblowing Directive (Poland and Estonia have encountered delays in transposing this legislation into their national laws, but Estonia has recently made progress on its draft.)
The European Commission has demonstrated its commitment to repercussions for states who do not comply with the new legislation. This has prompted decisive action being made and the pushing through of compliant whistleblowing legislation into law. This has seen varying levels of success across the member states, with many of these laws – despite being technically compliant – receiving further scrutiny upon adoption.
Ireland’s Whistleblowing Law
Ireland enacted new whistleblower protection laws in 2022, earning both praise and criticism. These laws align with EU standards, ensuring clarity, stronger safeguards, and better follow-up procedures.
Compliance with EU Directive: Demonstrates Ireland’s commitment to EU whistleblower protection standards
Internal and external reporting channels: Provides options for whistleblowers to maintain anonymity
Criminal offences: Introduction of penalties aligns with EU requirements, emphasising enforcement
Transparency: Prescribed persons must provide clear information about their role, enhancing transparency
Chilling effect: Criminalising false reports may discourage whistleblowers
Delay in implementation: Enacted over a year after the deadline, leaving whistleblowers unprotected
Weakening of protections: Concerns about the laws indirectly weakening statutory provisions
France’s Whistleblowing Law
France’s new whistleblowing laws received mixed reviews, with commendation for the enhanced role of the Defender of Rights but concerns about the lengthy opinion deadline and lack of sanctions for non-compliance.
Enhanced role of defender of rights: Clear guidance provided to whistleblowers
Formal certification: Offers legal recognition and protection to whistleblowers
Support for whistleblowers: Creation of Deputy Responsible for Supporting Whistleblowers addresses resource constraints
Acknowledgment of information and advice: Comprehensive support provided
Lengthy opinion deadline: Concerns raised about the six-month waiting period
Lack of sanctions: Absence of penalties for organisations not establishing internal reporting systems may undermine effectiveness