Recent case puts whistleblowing in Croatia in focus
What are the laws regarding whistleblowing in Croatia? How does protection for whistleblowers work? As a pan-European provider of whistleblowing solutions, WhistleB will be closely monitoring how the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive is transposed into national law across all Member States during 2021. We asked law firm Kovačević Prpić Simeunović LLC (KPS LLC) to provide us with an update on whistleblowing in Croatia.
Recently in Croatia we have witnessed a lot of media coverage about Croatian hospitals being under immense pressure due to the Sars-Cov 2 virus pandemic. In one particular case, a young doctor complained about the insufficient drug and food supply in the hospital where she works by sending an anonymous letter to the hospital management.
Even though this doctor was a whistleblower with the right to act anonymously, the hospital management did some quick investigations and found out who was behind the anonymous letter. We were able to read headlines such as “We have a suspicion about a young female doctor” and “Doctors are being threatened with termination of employment after supporting their colleague”. Some of these negative statements were given by the hospital’s management board, implying a lack of awareness and knowledge about whistleblower rights in Croatia.
After a few days, it came to light that investigating the identity of and threatening an anonymous reporter is prohibited, and the doctor is thereby protected by law for her actions. More specifically, the Act on Protection of Irregularity Reporters (whistleblowers) entered into force in Croatia on 1 July 2019. It protects whistleblowers who point out irregularities related to performing work for their employers. Under this Act, an employer is a legal entity, natural person or a public authority. It enforces Directive (EU) 2019/1937 of the European parliament and of the Council on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law (commonly referred to as the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive).
Pursuant to this Act, reporting irregularities in business operations is not considered a breach of business secrets. Moreover, the Act protects irregularity reporters from subsequent unfavorable treatment such as termination of the employment contract, harassment, salary reduction, disabling promotion at work, changing of the work schedule and similar.
According to the Act, any employee who reports irregularities has to do so diligently and fairly. A whistleblower must not give out information that (s)he knows is untrue, request wrongful benefits or undertake any other activity with the sole goal of causing damage to the employer.
For their part, all employers employing more than 50 people are obliged to: provide a possibility for internal reporting of irregularities; appoint a confidential person for internal irregularity reporting if such person is proposed by at least 20% of the employees; protect irregularity reporters from damaging acts; undertake measures to terminate irregularities; and keep the data received in the irregularity complaint confidential. Employers that employ at least 50 employees are obliged to regulate the process of internal irregularity reporting in an internal rulebook and make it available to all employees.
In addition to internal irregularity reporting, the Act also regulates external irregularity reporting and public irregularity reporting. External reporting is usually used as a second option, if there are specific obstacles to internal reporting, if there is an imminent threat to life, health or security, or if there is a possibility of mass-scale damages or the destruction of evidence. In Croatia, a competent public ombudsman is authorized for external irregularity reporting. In exceptional cases, such as the above-mentioned threats, the reporter can publicly disclose the information.
Any employers found to be in breach of the Act on Whistleblowers may be held liable for misdemeanor. Penalties for employers range from approx. EUR 1,333 to EUR 6,666, depending on the severity of misdemeanor.
We would like to thank Kovačević Prpić Simeunović LLC (www.kps-law.com) for this update on whistleblowing in Croatia. If you would like more information about WhistleB’s partnership programme or the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive, please feel free to contact us.
Jan Tadeusz Stappers, LL.M.
Senior Manager, Partnerships