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Fulfilling the EU Whistleblowing Directive: Tips for Global Companies

In late 2019, the European Union approved Directive 2019/1937, which is commonly referred to as the EU Whistleblowing Directive. It offers protection to people who report violations of EU law in their working environment. The EU’s member states are required to translate this directive into national law by December 2021 at the latest. As a result, companies that operate internationally will need to prepare for a number of new requirements.  

What is a whistleblower? 

The term “whistleblower” has been popping up fairly regularly in the news in recent years. The most well-known related cases have included the revelations made by Edward Snowden regarding the United States National Security Agency and the accounting scandal that recently came to light at the financial service provider Wirecard. But what exactly is a whistleblower? 

Whistleblowers are people who report crimes or injustices, particularly at companies, public agencies, or political organizations. They are usually people who work for such entities, but they can also be job applicants, business partners, or past employees. The sensitive information that whistleblowers make public typically comes from an area that is confidential or otherwise protected. 

Common examples of whistleblower disclosures involve corruption, data misuse, or violations of human rights. 

What the EU Whistleblowing Directive requires of companies 

The directive in question went into effect on December 16, 2019. Since then, it has protected whistleblowers from being fired, demoted, or otherwise discriminated against in retaliation for their actions.  

Whistleblowers have the option of reporting violations internally at their organization or directly to the supervisory authority responsible. In certain cases – when such channels fail to produce a suitable response, for example – they can also take their concerns public. 

According to the EU Whistleblowing Directive, companies with more than 50 employees (and every company in financial services, regardless of its size) will need to adjust to a series of changes. Among other things, they will be required to set up an internal whistleblowing system that can be used to report compliance violations. The identity of each whistleblower must remain confidential in the process. 

What companies need to do to ensure their compliance 

According to the new directive, whistleblowers should be able to report violations both verbally and in writing. Companies will thus be obligated to establish digital reporting systems, phone hotlines, and other such arrangements. Whistleblowers also have the option to raise issues by mail or an organization-internal mailbox. If a whistleblower prefers to meet with someone in person, this can be arranged, as well.  

As for when internal reporting systems like these will need to be in place, different deadlines have been set for companies of varying sizes: 

  • Companies with 250 or more employees have two years to comply with this requirement.  

  • Companies with between 50 and 249 employees have until December 17, 2023 to set up their internal whistleblowing systems. 

Meanwhile, the timely implementation of an effective whistleblowing system is important in terms of more than “just” compliance. It’s also in a company’s best interests. After all, making an internal reporting channel available can prevent problems from becoming known outside of an organization.   

In addition, the increased protection the directive offers to whistleblowers will encourage informants to draw attention to serious issues at their companies, which will then have the chance to identify risks early on and take corresponding action. Ideally, companies will then be able to avoid financial losses and damage to their reputations. 

How to avoid language barriers in whistleblowing systems 

Whether in implementing these new reporting channels or handling actual messages from whistleblowers, it’s important not to overlook potential language barriers. Companies that have locations in multiple countries and employees with different native languages will soon be required to provide their staff with the same whistleblower protection and equal access to all the components of their reporting systems. 

This means every component has to be made available in the necessary languages, which involves everything from translating online platforms and automated answering services to providing personal interpreters for one-on-one meetings. 

In some cases, the information reported also needs to be translated into various languages. Furthermore, translations may be required to communicate with employees from other countries as part of related investigations. 

Finally, the results of these inquiries may have to be translated into different languages, as well.  

Protecting information at every level 

In all these language services, confidentiality is a top priority. Communicating the information at hand without distorting it in any way is equally important, and it takes linguistic proficiency – along with legal expertise in some cases. At the same time, cultural insights and a keen sense of the finer points of language are also key, especially when it comes to increasing people’s willingness to cooperate. Even slight nuances such as the difference between the terms “investigation” and “internal review” can affect how forthcoming employees will be. 

At Lexsys, we have experienced translators on staff who specialize in a variety of subject areas. Our compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation is also ensured because most of our translators meet at least one of the following criteria: 

  • They live in the European Union 

  • They live in the European Economic Area 

  • They live in a country for which an adequacy decision has been adopted by the European Union

For translators who live in other countries, we make use of the EU’s standard contract clauses and risk assessments in line with Schrems II

To guarantee secure transfers of data, we always use our own customer portal. This means our customers can rest assured that their confidential information is in good hands.

 

Are you ready for the EU Whistleblowing Directive? 

We’d be happy to help you set up an effective whistleblowing system at your company. You’ve also come to the right place if you need language support in meeting the requirements of this new directive or for related ongoing investigations. Why not get in touch with us today to set up a free consultation?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Simon Fry

CEO

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