New Whistleblower Law is coming
Bill on Whistleblower Protection has just been published on the website of the Government Legislation Centre. The bill provides for new obligations for employers and sanctions for failure to implement them.
Conditions for protection of employees and other persons reporting breaches of law
New regime is to protect those who disclose serious wrongdoing in their workplace. A term “whistleblowers” include employees and former employees, but also candidates for employment, contractors or the self-employed, entrepreneurs, members of corporate governing bodies, trainees, volunteers, and persons providing work under the supervision or management of a contractor, subcontractor, or supplier. As a condition for granting whistleblower protection, whistleblowers must have reasonable grounds to believe that the information they are reporting is true at the time they report the violation.
Prohibition of retaliation and protective measures
Protection for whistleblowers will be broad, including whistleblowers, third persons who are connected with the reporting persons (e.g. spouses) and facilitators. All those persons are to be protected against adverse treatment, especially against refusal to establish a work relation and against termination of employment (with or without notice), refusal to conclude another fixed-term contract in a situation where the employee reasonably expected that such contract would be concluded with them, reduction of remuneration for work, suspension of promotion or transfer to a lower-rank position.
Internal Notification Rules (internal procedure for breach reporting)
The most important obligation is to establish internal reporting regulations (Internal Notification Rules). This document should set out a clear process for what organizations should do within a reasonable timeframe of receiving a report. The Rules will be subject to consultations with the trade unions or employee representatives. They should define the ways to make reports, the manner of their verification, the obligation to acknowledge receipt of a report within 7 days, and the follow-up measures undertaken by the employer to verify the breach-related information. The internal procedure may (but it is not required to) provide for acceptance of anonymous reports (this is left to the discretion of the employer).
Reporting breaches to the public authority or central authorities
The bill provides for a possibility of making the external report (e.g. to the Ombudsman), both directly and after the internal reporting channel has been used. The Ombudsman will also provide information about whistleblower protection and advice in this respect. In some situations, reports can also be sent to other authorities, such as the President of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection.
Rules for public disclosure
Whistleblowers can also disclose information about a breach to the general public. However, this right will be exceptional, and will apply to a situation where no relevant measures have been undertaken or the whistleblower received no feedback, and to some extraordinary situations, specifically mentioned in the bill.
The bill provides for criminal sanctions, including the penalty of imprisonment. Sanctions can be imposed both on those who have failed to establish the reporting procedure, hinder breach reporting, take retaliation measures or infringe the confidentiality obligation, and those who report or publicly disclose information which is not true.
We recommend that employers review their whistleblowing policies and procedures before the changes take effect. While the private sector internal procedures requirements will only be mandatory for employers with 250 or more employees, they provide a useful benchmark of best practices for smaller private sector employers as well.
At the moment, the bill is at the stage of approvals and evaluation. The new law is to take effect 2 weeks after its promulgation. We monitor the legislative work and we will inform you of all important events in this respect.
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