Whistleblowing Policy

What it is and how the whistleblowing process works

In English, the word whistleblowing, refers to the spontaneous disclosure by an individual, known as a whistleblower, of a wrongdoing or irregularity, potentially harmful to the community and which he or she witnesses, committed within the organisation or public or private company for which he or she works.

The reporter or whistleblower is often an employee. However, it may also be a third party, such as a supplier, consultant or customer.

There are two types of whistleblowing reports:

  1. Internal: when the report is made through the company’s internal channels by employees or third parties of an organisation, public or private, who witness unlawful or fraudulent conduct in the performance of their duties;
  2. External: when the report is made to the judicial authorities, the media or competent associations and bodies. Those who make use of this practice generally do so out of a lack of trust in their company because the latter does not guarantee a system of protection and safeguards for the whistleblower.

The whistleblower, therefore, is the person who, usually in the course of his or her work, discovers and denounces facts that cause or could cause damage to the public or private organisation in which he or she works, or to the people who deal with it, such as customers, consumers and shareholders. Thanks to the activities of whistleblowers, it is possible to prevent dangers, such as those related to fraud or health, and to inform potential risk subjects before the actual damage occurs.

Whistleblowing, if rooted at all levels of the company and properly protected, fosters free communication within the organisation, whether public or private, greater participation in its progress and proper implementation of the internal control system.

To best manage this important corporate compliance tool, the whistleblowing system needs to be:

  • Easily accessible and usable;
  • Ensures the protection of each whistleblower;
  • Ensures the monitoring and management of reports;
  • Provides for prompt action in response to a whistleblowing.

The Italian legal system

The Italian legal system protects employees who report wrongdoing of which they become aware in the performance of their duties. The protection of employees who report irregularities is achieved, in particular, through the rules introduced by Article 54-bis of Legislative Decree No. 165 of 2001, inserted by Article 1, paragraph 51, Law No. 190 of 6 November 2012 and amended by Article. 31, paragraph 1, Decree-Law No. 90 of 24 June 2014, converted, with amendments, by Law No. 114 of 11 August 2014, as in force today following the substantial amendments made by Article 1, paragraph 1, Law No. 179 of 30 November 2017 (source: Ministry of Justice).

The European Directive

The European Directive on whistleblowing came into force on 16 December 2019, with the aim of providing whistleblowers with equal protections in all member states, harmonised across sectors, introducing common rules that require the adoption of confidential, secure reporting channels that provide effective protection, as well as safeguards in case of possible retaliation.

EU Directive 2019/1937 covers all enterprises, both public and private, and governmental organisations with 50 or more employees. It also applies to local authorities and municipalities with more than 10,000 inhabitants. These entities must provide employees with a way to report wrongdoing and have systems in place to monitor and act on the reports submitted.

Each organisation must also take measures to protect the identity of whistleblowers and comply with the GDPR to ensure that the whistleblower does not suffer any recrimination for reports made in good faith.

The Directive protects anyone who has a professional relationship with the organisation and therefore includes:

  • Employees;
  • Freelance workers;
  • Contractors;
  • Subcontractors;
  • Suppliers;
  • Shareholders;
  • Persons in management positions;
  • Persons with whom the employment relationship has ended (i.e. former employees);
  • Candidates with a view to employment;
  • Volunteers and trainees, paid or unpaid.

Protections of the European Directive

Article 19 of the directive lists protections against retaliatory action by organisations or individuals concerned. The directive protects both whistleblowers and their families and colleagues who supported them in reporting.

Member States must take the necessary measures to prohibit any form of retaliation, including threats and attempts to retaliate, including in particular:

  • – Dismissal, suspension or equivalent measures;
  • Downgrading or non-promotion;
  • The change of duties, change of place of work, reduction of salary, change of working hours;
  • The suspension of training;
  • Negative merit notes or references;
  • The imposition or administration of disciplinary measures, reprimand or other sanction, including a fine;
  • Coercion, intimidation, harassment or ostracism;
  • Discrimination, disadvantageous or unfair treatment;
  • Failure to convert a fixed-term employment contract into a permanent employment contract where the employee had legitimate expectations of being offered permanent employment;
  • The non-renewal or early termination of a fixed-term employment contract;
  • Damage, including to the person’s reputation, particularly on social media, or financial loss, including loss of economic opportunities and loss of income;
  • Blacklisting on the basis of a formal or informal sector or industry agreement, which may result in the person being unable to find employment in the sector or industry in the future;
  • The early termination or cancellation of a contract for goods or services;
  • The cancellation of a licence or permit;
  • The undergoing of psychiatric or medical examinations.

Furthermore, the directive ensures that the whistleblower is protected even if his employment contract, non-disclosure agreement, confidentiality clause, copyrighted material or any other document states that he is bound to remain silent.

Article 20, on the other hand, details the support measures available to whistleblowers. These include the provision of free and comprehensive information on their rights, legal assistance to fight retaliation, financial assistance and access to psychological support. This protection is provided from the moment the whistleblower comes forward and makes their report, whether they do so internally within the organisation, externally to the authorities or through public channels such as the media.