One year until the first EU Whistleblower Protection Directive deadline: 3 tips for building a speak-up culture

December 22, 2020

There’s less than a year to go until the first EU Whistleblower Protection Directive deadline. That means it’s high time for some corporate self-reflection for business leaders and board members. Have you built a speak-up culture to encourage people to report their concerns internally?

From 17 December 2021, employees and other groups connected to the organisation will be protected if they blow the whistle on illegal or unethical activities they suspect going on in their organisations, and organisations will be obliged to provide safe reporting channels for them to do so. That protection extends to whistleblowers who choose to report externally, for example to the competent authorities or to the media. 

No amount of legal protection will convince a person to report internally if the organisational culture has previously favoured silence over speaking up. A speak-up culture comes down to trust, and building it takes time. If you are an organisation that employs 250 or more employers, you have a year until the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive deadline. Here’s what you can start to do now so that people have the confidence to speak up internally first once they are legally protected to go external with concerns. 

1. Set the right tone from the top and embrace the whistleblower. 

Lay the foundations by working with and communicating the organisation’s commitment to ethical business, expressed in the core values and code of conduct. Setting the right tone from the top is essential for trust. Senior management and the board need to advocate whistleblowing and underline its value in upholding ethical business practices. Emphasise that creating a safe and ethical environment is everybody’s responsibility and let people know that they are welcome to raise concerns about misconduct in good faith. Explain that the purpose of the whistleblowing channel is to allow them to do this safely so that the organisation can do something about it, and minimise damage. Acknowledge the courage that whistleblowers show.

2. Explain how whistleblowing works and allow employees to report anonymously. 

Describe how a person can blow the whistle, what will happen to their report, the feedback they can expect and when. Re-assure them that all reports will be taken seriously and processed properly by competent professionals. Legally, such professionals must be appointed before the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive deadline in December 2021.

Clarify what is and is not a whistleblowing case. However, also be clear that the definition is not the most important thing. If something does not feel right to an individual, then it is worth speaking up about it anyway. Non-whistleblowing reports will also be treated respectfully and referred as appropriate. 

Allow employees to report anonymously. Our experience has shown that many whistleblowers want to report anonymously. So, leaders may consider how to provide not only the confidentiality that is required by the directive, but also full anonymity. This can have the biggest impact in creating a safe speak-up culture.

Prioritise system security.Certain elements of system security, confidentiality and data protection are governed by the requirements of the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive. However, leaders can further build trust in the system by implementing the most robust and secure system possible and communicating technical security to employees. 

3. Rule out retaliation. 

People need to trust that they will be protected against any form of retaliation and negative consequences if they report internally. This has also been recognised by the new Directive, and once the deadline passes all forms of retaliation will be illegal and subject to penalties. However, employees may not be aware of this fact, so leaders may need to inform employees and also define retaliation to help everybody identify and counteract it.

In a world where employees have a choice of whether to report internally or externally, it makes business sense for leaders and board members to do everything they can to make employees feel safe to speak up internally, first. The good news is that there is a year to go until the first EU Whistleblower Protection Directive deadline, that’s ample time to make a change and cultivate a speak-up culture. 

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