What is the EU Whistleblowing Directive and when did Sweden embrace it?
The EU Whistleblowing Directive requires private and public sector employers with 250 employees or more to implement a whistleblowing system by 17 December 2021 at the latest. However, smaller organisations across the EU with between 50 and 249 employees will have until 17 December 2023 to implement the necessary measures. Sweden was notable among European countries in kicking off its transposition process extremely early, even before the EU adopted the directive. In May 2019, the Swedish government launched an inquiry commission to gauge how the EU Whistleblowing Directive should be transposed into national law.
The situation in Sweden before the Directive
Sweden has had dedicated whistleblower protection legislation in place since 2016 and it came into force at the beginning of 2017. The Whistleblower Act (SFS 2016:749) enabled Swedish employees to report suspected wrongdoing such as corruption, misuse of public funds and violations of rights while remaining protected from retaliation. The legislation has been criticised, however, as whistleblowers can become exposed through a system of internal reporting and subsequent reporting to regulators. The fact that the law does not guarantee anonymity and confidentiality has been identified as a major flaw that led to the early interest in the EU Whistleblowing Directive.
Sweden and the EU Whistleblowing Directive – the road to implementation
New and old legislation – the key differences
While the new bill transposes the EU Whistleblowing Directive into Swedish national law, it goes beyond the minimum standards required. As well as containing provisions on protecting persons reporting information about misconduct in a work-related context, it also extends that protection to further individuals. For example, this can include people who provide assistance to a whistleblower or legal entities the whistleblower owns, works for or is otherwise connected to.
The law also obliges organisations to establish whistleblowing channels and sets new standards for processing personal data and dealing with professional confidentiality. Swedish companies with over 250 employees have to establish internal whistleblowing channels by July 17, 2022 while the deadline for organisations with between 50 and 250 employees is December 17, 2023.
The most important aspects of the new law
Where Sweden goes beyond the EU Directive
The last point outlined above is noteworthy in that it goes beyond what is outlined in the EU Whistleblowing Directive. Sweden’s law stipulates that municipalities with less than 10,000 inhabitants have to implement internal reporting channels while the EU Directive has a requirement above a population of 10,000. Another area where Sweden takes things a step further is when it comes to the protection of whistleblowers where information being disclosed contains a “general interest”. By comparison, the EU Directive is aimed at breaches of Union law.
Summing up Sweden’s strides
Whistleblowing has become an increasingly important part of employment law, particularly within the financial services sector, and both Sweden and Denmark are examples of countries that have moved early to strengthen protection for individuals reporting wrongdoing in the workplace. Swedish Employment Minister Eva Nordmark previously commented on the government’s commitment to improving the protection of whistleblowers in the country. “People should not have to fear dismissal or being locked in a freezer for reporting wrongdoing in their workplace”, Nordmark said. She added that “we should not have silent workplaces where problems are swept under the carpet”.
A recent report from Transparency International and the Whistleblowing Network International looked at progress of the transposition of the EU Directive. It praised Sweden for its transparent and inclusive transposition progress, particularly its move to get the implementation of the Directive started as early as possible.
A comprehensive study on whistleblowing in European companies