EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Whistleblower protection

Whistleblowers are understood as those ‘who report (within the organisation concerned or to an outside authority) or disclose (to the public) information on a wrongdoing obtained in a work-related context, help prevent damage and detect threat or harm to the public interest that may otherwise remain hidden’ (European Commission). Whistleblowers can face retaliation from employers, such as dismissal or demotion, and therefore require effective protection. Following Recommendation CM/Rec(2014)7 , adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 30 April 2014, the European Commission published a proposal for a Directive on the protection of whistleblowers on 23 April 2018 (COM (2018) 218 final). This directive seeks to move beyond the partial whistleblower protection (limited to some employees, activities or breaches) provided by many EU Member States.

The objective of the proposed directive is twofold. First, it aims to guarantee protection for whistleblowers against dismissal and any form of retaliation by establishing safe channels for reporting. Second, the regulation seeks to enhance the enforcement of EU law in areas such as environmental protection, public finances, public procurement, competition and financial services. Moreover, the directive intends to provide effective safeguards to accused governments or organisations, including the presumption of innocence and the right to fair trial or defence, in order to safeguard public interest and avoid reputational damage.

According to the European Commission, only 10 EU Member States (France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden and the United Kingdom) have a comprehensive legislation protecting whistleblowers; in the remaining Member States, the protection is only partial.

The EU social partners have welcomed new regulation to protect whistleblowers, but have raised some concerns about certain aspects of the proposal. Trade unions have complained that the European Commission did not refer the proposal to the social partners for consultation in accordance with Article 154 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Indeed, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has warned that it may undertake legal action to prevent legislation progressing if no formal consultation procedure is launched. Moreover, ETUC has expressed concerns that the worker protection offered is insufficient and, more specifically, that there is a lack of regulation in relation to trade union support. On the other hand, BUSINESSEUROPE has shown reservations about the need for a quasi-horizontal EU legislative initiative in the field of whistleblower protection, as they argue that whistleblowers are sufficiently protected at national level.

See also: Council of Europe; data protection

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