Per Karlberg

Whistle Blower Protection

Jag fick en artikel från min fd Eurocadresstyrelsekollega Jan de Paepe, Belgien, och jag tänker att den här kan fler behöva läsa.

Go blow that whistle!

Whistleblowers are often outlawed. The fact that Europe wants to offer them better protection can only please Jan De Paepe.

People sometimes encounter abuses in their company or organisation. By passing this crucial and sensitive information on to the media, ‘whistleblowers’ take risks, not only  for themselves. The European Commission is proposing an directive to develop a legal framework offering sufficient protection.

Whistleblowers are often highly committed people who, seemingly from nowhere, make revelations and expose practices that are unacceptable to them. When the phenomenon occurs, the immediate environment and management tend to react extremely awkwardly and emotionally and deny everything.

Whistleblowers usually act on their own, which makes them vulnerable. They are ostracized and branded as ‘nest-foulers’. The consequences are felt most strongly when their hierarchical superiors and sometimes even their co-workers react negatively. In this tense atmosphere they become isolated. They only find support within a limited circle of supporters and among critical investigative journalists.

Another characteristic is that they are very well aware of what is at stake and of the consequences of their revelations. Before they make their revelations, many of them go through a process of inner turmoil and soul-searching, considering all the arguments dozens of times and trying to decide whether there is another way out. In the end, whistleblowers almost always turn out to be right and society benefits from their revelations. That is why it is absolutely necessary to provide better protection for whistleblowers.

The proposed whistle blower protection directive did not come about by itself. It was preceded by an intensive process in which 85 renowned European NGOs such as Transparency International, trade unions, journalists’ professional organisations and MEPs joined forces and exerted pressure via a whistleblower platform. Eurocadres played here an important coordinating role.

For the legal basis of a specific protection regime, we need to go back to June 2016. In their zeal to pursue a strong innovation policy and to better protect companies against unfair competition, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union issued a directive aimed at improving the protection of confidential business information.

It is perfectly understandable that highly specific company information, such as production processes, intellectual property, customer files and membership lists, is to be protected. But the definition of ‘business secret’ in the text is so broad that employees who work close to management level and are therefore privy to a great deal of ‘sensitive’ information may feel anxious if they encounter unfair practices.

The very long limitation period, for example, may curtail the job mobility of many knowledge workers. Simply changing jobs might be risky.

Ultimately, it’s not the employer issuing threats but the court that is and will remain competent to assess the impact of and the damage caused by a ‘crime’ such as a company information leak. In the capacity of recognised European social partner for professionals and managers and partner organisation of the European Trade Union Confederation, Eurocadres has been able, through targeted lobbying, to enforce some of the exceptions needed to safeguard the public interest, such as care for welfare, the environment and freedom of expression.

The protection should preferably be as broad as possible, which is why it should be implemented in both the private and public sector. It should also target all types of employees: permanent employees, freelancers, trainees, from the moment of their recruitment up to the termination of the cooperation.

It would be sensible to create clear structures and agree on where potential whistleblowers can report, both internally and externally. Conflicts of interest are always a possibility. If appropriate codes of conduct are to be drawn up, social dialogue can certainly play a role.

Jan De Paepe, Secretary of ACV for executives and Belgian representative at Eurocadres.

For more information go to https://whistleblowerprotection.eu/