The European Commission has proposed legislation in order to provide better protection for whistleblowers across the EU as a whole.

The new law will set up safe channels for reporting within the whistleblower’s organisation as well as to external public authorities. It will also protect whistleblowers against dismissal, demotion and other forms of retaliation and require national authorities to inform their citizens and provide training for public authorities on how to deal with whistleblowers.

The proposal, which will set new, EU-wide standards has come about following a number of scandals including the suppression of diesel emissions by some car manufacturers, the use of offshore tax havens revealed in the Panama Papers and the ongoing saga of the Cambridge Analytica revelations.

Noting that people who uncover illegal activities should not be punished as a consequence of their action, the Commission points out that, in reality, many whistleblowers pay heavily for their action with their jobs, their reputation or even their health. Indeed, research has found that 36 per cent of workers who reported misconduct experienced retaliation.

Under the new law, companies with more than 50 employees or with an annual turnover of over €10 million will have to set up an internal procedure to handle whistleblowers' reports. All state, regional administrations and municipalities with over 10,000 inhabitants will also be required to take action.

 The protection mechanisms include:

  • Clear reporting channels, within and outside of the organisation, ensuring confidentiality.
  • A three-tier reporting system which includes setting up internal channels; a system for reporting to competent authorities if the internal system does not work; and public/media reporting if no appropriate action is taken through the previous two channels.
  • Feedback obligations for authorities and companies, who will have to respond and follow-up the whistleblower's reports within three months for internal reporting channels.
  • Sanctions for any forms of retaliation. For instance, if a whistleblower suffers retaliation, they should have access to free advice and adequate remedies. The burden of proof will be on the organisation to prove that they are not acting in retaliation against the whistleblower. Whistleblowers will also be protected in judicial proceedings, in particular through an exemption from liability for disclosing the information

Neil Todd
of Thompsons Solicitors commented: “These provisions potentially provide important further protection for those who blow the whistle at work. Although the law would only come into force after the UK leaves the EU, it is incumbent on the UK to ensure it does not treat its workers less favourably than other member states. On this basis we would expect to see equivalent legislation here.”

To read the proposal in more detail, visit the European Commission website.