22.07.2020

State developing bill to protect whistleblowers

The Ministry of Justice is preparing to develop a bill to protect whistleblowers. By the end of 2021, Estonia must transfer the EU's Directive on the Protection of Whistleblowers into law.

Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) said: "A number of recent cases clearly show that whistleblowing can have unintended consequences. Creating information channels and providing legal protection contributes to the development of a transparent and open society, and it is certainly important for companies to solve their problems quickly and adequately."

The bill must deal with ensuring the confidentiality of the whistleblower which is necessary to ensure the person who reports the breach is not discriminated against in the workplace.

When the law enters into force, it will be prohibited to use coercive measures against the whistleblower in the future, such as harassment, reduction of wages, or dismissal or threats.

A three-step system for notification has been proposed, with the first step being an internal notification. Public authorities and private companies with more than 50 employees will need to create secure channels through which people can report violations within their organization. Companies that are not required to do so by law are also encouraged to set up in-house information channels.

The employee must be informed in the future about the possibility to report a violation through an external notification channel. This is particularly important in cases where it can be assumed that internal reporting may be subject to retaliatory measures or the company does not have a notification system due to its small size. An independent and separate body must be designated to receive and process external notifications.

Thirdly, protection is also provided for making the problems public, such as telling the media, but there are separate rules for this. This includes, in particular, situations where there has been no response to internal or external notification or where the breach may constitute a clear threat to the public interest such as an emergency.

Although making the problems public is always permitted, protection against retaliatory measures can only be obtained in certain situations, as informing the public of an infringement, where there is no real basis for it, can have a significant impact on the people or organizations involved.

In addition, whistleblowing should be aimed at resolving problems, and notification through an internal or external channel is likely to continue to be the most effective way to remedy the breach.

Read the article at ERR.