Slovakia: The latest developments in relation to whistleblowing legislation
Slovakia was one of the first countries which introduced a whistleblowing regulation in the Central and Eastern European region. Act No. 307/2014 Coll. On the Protection of Whistleblowers ('2015 whistleblowing legislation') came into effect on 1 January 2015. The main aim of this regulation was to provide protection for employees who witnessed any wrongdoing and wished to report it securely. Employers were obliged to create a reporting system if they employed more than 50 employees or were a public institution. The Labor Inspectorates were entitled to enforce the law, including by imposing sanctions. Pavel Nechala, Partner at WISE3, discusses the latest development in relation to whistleblowing legislation in Slovakia.
The 2019 revision of the whistleblowing legislation
Based on the poor enforcement of the law by the Labor Inspectorates and a very formalistic approach by regulated stakeholders, the 2015 whistleblowing legislation was reformed in 2019. The new Act No. 54/2019 Coll. on the Protection of Whistleblowers ('2019 whistleblowing legislation') came into effect on 1 March 2019. The most important change was the establishment of a standalone agency, the Whistleblower Protection Office ('UOO'), which replaced the Labor Inspectorates in enforcing the whistleblower legislation. However, the process of appointing the first chairperson was very lengthy, so the UOO has only started to operate since 1 September 2021. The UOO was established to provide legal advice and assistance to people who report actions with a negative impact on society.
EU Whistleblowing Directive
EU Member States were obliged to implement the Directive on the Protection of Persons who Report Breaches of Union Law (Directive (EU) 2019/1937) (23 October 2019) ('EU Whistleblowing Directive') into national law by 17 December 2021. The Slovak government has started the legislative procedure through the introduction of an amendment to the 2019 whistleblowing legislation. The bill has received many comments and proposals for revision from the public and private sectors during the public consultation period. Evaluation of the comments and proposals is still ongoing. The amendment is planned to come into effect on 1 May 2022.
On one hand, the proposed changes are in line with the EU Whistleblowing Directive and they do not introduce new instruments or rights, on the other hand, Slovak public institutions have expressed many concerns about the proposed text.
Below, the main changes proposed by the government bill are listed (note that they are still subject to change pending the evaluation of public consultation and possible amendments introduced in Parliament).
The definition of the whistleblower will be extended to:
- persons performing their professional or graduate internship;
- self-employed persons (freelancers);
- a close person who is a co-worker of the whistleblower;
- former employees;
- job candidates; and
- anonymous individuals whose identity has been revealed.
Employers providing the following services will be subject to obligations relating to internal whistleblowing procedures regardless of the size of the workforce:
- financial services;
- transport safety services; and
- environmental services.
Such employers will be obliged to determine a so-called responsible person for receiving and assessing reports.
Employers will be obliged to ensure that action is taken against any person obstructing the filing of a report through the internal whistleblowing procedures. Obstruction also means the refusal to accept a report or any other action aimed at complicating or slowing down the reporting process.
Employers will have to amend their internal whistleblowing policies to ensure compliance and address additional legal requirements, by, in particular:
- training and motivating staff to use the internal whistleblowing procedures;
- adopting measures to eliminate deficiencies identified during the review of reports and communication with the whistleblower; and
- adopting measures against the obstruction of reporting.
The new amendment will introduce fines up to €2,000 for anyone who:
- threatens to penalise, attempts to penalise, or penalises the whistleblower in connection with reporting through the internal whistleblowing procedures;
- attempts to prevent or obstructs the reporting; and
- breaches the duty of confidentiality regarding the identity of the person against whom the report is directed.
Pavel Nechala Partner