New rules to protect whistleblowers will come into effect across the European Union within the next two years following an agreement by EU leaders on Oct. 7.
The directive on whistleblower protection will guarantee a high level of protection for whistleblowers by establishing safe channels for reporting both within an organization and to public authorities, setting EU-wide standards.
It will also protect whistleblowers against dismissal, demotion, and other forms of retaliation and require national authorities to inform citizens and provide training for public authorities on how to deal with people who speak up.
The directive covers many areas of EU law, ranging from anti-money laundering, data protection, food and product safety, and issues relating to the protection of the EU’s financial interests (such as breaches of EU competition law and violations and abuse of corporate tax rules) to public health, environmental protection, and nuclear safety.
Member States will have two years to transpose the rules into national law. Currently, only 10 EU countries have legislation in place to ensure whistleblowers are fully protected (one of which is the United Kingdom, which is set to leave the European Union).
All companies with more than 50 employees or with an annual turnover of more than €10 million (U.S. $11 million) will have to set up an internal procedure to handle whistleblowers’ reports. In the public sector, meanwhile, all state and regional administrations and municipalities with over 10,000 inhabitants will also be covered by the new law.
While whistleblowers should be able to report concerns internally or to a regulator, disclosures to the media will be protected if internal or external reporting channels are either not functioning properly or if there are possible signs of collusion. If organizations or authorities do not provide feedback or fail to follow up concerns within three to six months of the complaint, whistleblowers are effectively free to go “public” and disclose details to elected officials and campaign groups and post grievances or remarks on social media platforms.
EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers, and Gender Equality Věra Jourová said in a statement: “Whistleblowers should not be punished for doing the right thing. Our new, EU-wide rules will make sure they can report in a safe way on breaches of EU law in many areas.”
“I urge Member States to implement the new rules without delay,” she added.
It is likely, however, that the European Union will have an uphill battle to convince the public whistleblower disclosures are both genuinely encouraged and properly protected. Recent research by the Commission found just 15 percent of EU citizens are aware of existing rules on whistleblower protection.
Furthermore, according to a poll on corruption conducted by the European Commission in 2017, 81 percent of respondents said they did not report the corruption they had experienced or witnessed because they did not believe they had adequate protection. Similarly, 85 percent of respondents believed workers “very rarely” or “rarely” report concerns about threat or harm to the public interest due to fear of reprisals.