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What is a Whistleblower?

Whistleblowers in the context of the new EU Directive

In the past few years, whistleblowers have repeatedly made the headlines. Recently, the Wirecard scandal certainly attracted the most attention and is therefore probably the most prominent example of whistleblowing at the moment. The public discussion in connection with dealing with whistleblowers is getting louder and in 2019, an important legal impetus was provided for the protection of whistleblowers: the EU Whistleblower Directive. But what is exactly behind the term “whistleblower” and is it defined more precisely within the framework of this new EU directive

Whistleblower? A definition

A whistleblower is first of all “only” a natural person who reports information about wrongdoings in companies or public institutions. The person must have obtained this information in connection with his or her work. There is no standard in terms of content – it can be information about grievances of considerable scope, such as criminal offences or general dangers for employees or the entire company. However, it can also be less serious incidents, such as ethics violations or violations of internal policies. 

This definition is deliberately based on the EU Whistleblowing Directive, as it stipulates who is to be protected when reporting information via a whistleblowing system. The EU Directive is authoritative for national implementation in all EU member states (in Germany: Whistleblower Protection Act). 

Who can be a whistleblower?

The above-mentioned natural persons protected by the EU Whistleblowing Directive include all employees of a company: i.e. not only current full-time or part-time employees, but also trainees, former and future employees.  

Accordingly, employees constitute the largest group of potential whistleblowers. Members of the management or other persons in leading positions as well as members of the supervisory board and shareholders are also protected as whistleblowers under the EU Whistleblowing Directive. Outside the company, customers, contractors and suppliers can also be whistleblowers.  

In summary, the EU Directive includes all groups of people who are connected to your company and can thus obtain information about wrongdoing. 

What about groups of people not mentioned in the Whistleblower Directive? 

The fear of misuse often reflexively comes into focus. What happens if competitors want to boycott your company? What if other people want to publish information that could harm your company? These groups of people are not covered by the Directive’s protection. And most importantly, there is no statistical evidence that the introduction of a whistleblowing system leads to an increase in false reports or a wave of “whistleblowing” in the company. 

If you would like to learn more about whistleblowing, please take a look at our Know-How page

Are you already thinking about how to deal with whistleblowing in your company? Then download “Your guide to comply with the Whistleblowing Directive in your company”. Or contact one of our experts for a personal consultation.

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