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What is workplace whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing in the workplace is when an employee (the whistleblower) reports to an authorized person a specific type of wrongdoing, misconduct or illegal act made by another employee or by the company itself.

Examples of whistleblowing include criminal activity, such as theft, or unethical or unjust behavior in the workplace, such as discrimination against a protected class. However, personal grievances (including bullying, harassment, and discrimination) are not usually covered by whistleblowing law unless the case is in the public interest.

Internal procedures for handling whistleblowing and whistleblowers in the workplace can vary from company to company. However, in recent years, policies and legal regulations surrounding whistleblowing and case handling tightened and increased worldwide.

The EU Whistleblower Protection Directive

On December 17, 2021, the EU Member States were required to transpose the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive into national law – the most wide-scale whistleblowing regulation passed. The Directive’s purpose is to provide a higher quality of protection across EU countries for those wanting to expose breaches of EU law or workplace misconduct. Employees who ‘blow the whistle’ must now have clear reporting channel options and be protected from negative retaliation.

EU companies and public bodies with 250 or more employees must execute the defined reporting system. As of this year, January 1, 2023, this has now changed to include organizations that have 50 or more workers.

Key requirements include:

  • Safe and accessible reporting channels
  • Ensuring workers know when and where to report wrongdoing
  • Protecting the confidentiality of whistleblowers and those involved
  • Promptly acknowledging receipt of reports and providing feedback within seven days
  • Providing an update on the investigation within three months of the initial report
  • Protecting whistleblowers from dismissal, demotion or other forms of workplace retaliation
  • Keeping a record of reports for no longer than necessary to comply with GDPR data-keeping rules

Over the past year, as EU countries worked to transpose the EU Directive into national law, some created and enforced brand new guidelines, while others updated old policies. In France, recent updates were made to the anti-corruption and whistleblowing law Sapin II to ensure it aligns with the EU Directive and to prevent and detect bribery and corruption through increased corporate transparency, reinforced internal monitoring, and enhanced whistleblower protection. Other amended whistleblowing acts include the Netherlands Whistleblower Protection Act, House for Whistleblowers Act (Wet Huis voor klokkenluiders), and Ireland’s Protected Disclosures Act 2014.

Japanese Whistleblower Protection Act

Following the EU’s decision to tighten its whistleblowing laws, on June 1, 2022, Japan updated its own rules to include smaller companies and increase the protection for potential whistleblowers. However, for organizations with 300 or fewer employees, the requirement for an internal system is reduced to “make efforts.”

Key requirements of the Japanese Whistleblower Protection Act include:

  • A designation of personnel responding to whistleblowing reports, including the scope of personnel covered and the manner of designation
  • Establishment of internal systems, including considering the practicalities of forming systems, the requirement for independence and elimination of conflict of interest, and steps to be taken when responding to whistleblowing reports
  • Measures to protect whistleblowers, including preventing adverse treatment and avoiding out-of-scope information sharing
  • Ensuring whistleblowing systems function effectively, including employee education, feedback to whistleblowers, retention of records, and establishment of internal rules

Looking to the future

Today, having a quality and well-communicated workplace whistleblowing procedure is now considered mandatory for employees, potential investors, and job candidates. Many countries, mainly EU member states, are expected to tighten their whistleblowing regulations and increase protection standards throughout 2023 – aligning with the growing number of global policies and laws.

“Greater awareness of on-coming changes to the regulatory landscape providing stronger protection for whistleblowers, with the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive and the amended Japanese Whistleblowing Protection Act, may be starting to affect the shape of whistleblowing programs…small upward trends in volumes seen across some regions perhaps indicate that people feel safer, and better understand the importance of reporting.” – NAVEX 2022 Regional Whistleblowing Benchmark Report.

Click here to learn more about how NAVEX and NAVEX E&C online solutions can help your company comply with global whistleblowing laws. To read more about current global whistleblowing reporting trends and statistics, download our NAVEX 2022 Regional Whistleblowing Benchmark Report.

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