Tom Devine, Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project (a co-founder of WIN) explains that unless a serious “technical contradiction is resolved [the EU draft directive] could backfire against its own objectives, against employers and especially against whistleblowers”. He urges the European Council to avoid violating fundamental global best practices in whistleblowing laws by adopting the precedents of EU member states of Ireland and the Romanian Presidency Romania where no such mandatory internal reporting through designated channels exists.
Reporting internally should be protected easily – organisations should want to learn about any and all potential problems early and promptly with few barriers for staff to speak up safely. However, according to the draft directive, staff will only be protected from retaliation if they use the official channels employers will be required to set up. This misunderstands the essence of all whistleblowing laws to create safe channels for the free flow of information in order to responsibly exercise authority.
WIN’s Legal Briefs have been updated to include a response to the EU Council which is now scrutinising the draft directive. This update highlights growing concern that the much welcome improvements to the EU draft directive recently voted through the Parliamentary Committee will not replicated by the EU Council.
The main problem, which the EU Council seems set to embrace and which was recently rejected by the JURI Committee in its Report, is that the draft directive reinforces employer control over the reporting of wrongdoing. It does so by making it a requirement for all those in a work-based relationship to report their concern to their employer first. While reporting internally will remain the default for the vast majority of whistleblowers and it makes sense for employers to do all they can to encourage their staff to speak up early, it is dangerous to make it a legal obligation.
Further, making staff use the channels that employers “officially” set up is almost worse. The vast majority of whistleblowers raise concerns as a normal part of doing their jobs and typically it is only as a result of the response they get, that they realise that something is really wrong. Formal reports of wrongdoing via official employer channels set up for that purpose will only ever capture the tip of the information the Directive seeks to protect; the iceberg is the routine reports of discovered problems though the supervisory chain of command and in sensitive assignments such as audits, inspection reports and reports of investigations. Very few people who report problems are doing so specifically to denounce misconduct or as dissidents.