At long last, Germany is also developing a whistleblower protection law. It could come into force in May 2023. The law is intended to protect whistleblowers from reprisals if they point out corruption, fraud, environmental damage or other abuses in their own company.

Find out what employers need to be aware of according to the current draft here.

When does the Whistleblower Protection Act protect?

The Whistleblower Protection Act protects natural persons who have obtained information about violations through their professional activities and report them. The Act provides for certain reporting offices for the reporting. In addition to whistleblowers, the law also protects persons who are affected by the report (for example, because the report concerns them).

The Whistleblower Protection Act applies to reports that involve violations of German or European law. This primarily concerns violations that are subject to criminal penalties or fines, but also those that violate legal provisions on product and traffic safety, environmental protection, the regulation of consumer rights, the protection of privacy and security of information technology, and so on. Thus, the law has a very wide scope of application. Exceptions apply only in the area of classified information and confidentiality obligations.

The Whistleblower Protection Act also stipulates that the person providing the information must not suffer any disadvantage in the form of retaliation or reprisals as a result of the report. Failure to comply with the Whistleblower Protection Act may result in sanctions and claims for damages.

What are hotlines?

So-called hotlines must be available for whistleblowers. The Whistleblower Protection Act distinguishes between internal and external hotlines. Internal hotlines are set up by the employer itself, while external hotlines are set up by the state. Each whistleblower can decide for him- or herself whether to submit the report to an internal or external office.

A person providing information must be able to submit the report in writing or verbally (by telephone, in person or via another form of voice transmission). The reporting office is then obliged to process the report.

Reporting offices must always treat the report as confidential. This means, in particular, that both the identity of the person making the report and that of all persons appearing in the report or whom it concerns must be treated confidentially.

In addition, reporting agencies must document the incoming report and provide feedback on the receipt, action taken, and outcome of the report.

When do I need to set up an internal reporting office?

The establishment of internal reporting offices is the duty of the employer. This obligation applies if the employer generally employs at least 50 employees or if the company is one of the companies listed in Section 12 III of the Whistleblower Protection Act (primarily companies in the areas of banking, securities services, capital management and insurance supervision).

Employers can be natural or legal persons, as well as other associations of persons with legal capacity. Employees include not only ordinary employees, but also trainees, civil servants, judges, soldiers and so on.

Larger companies (50 - 249 employees) may also share reporting channels.

How do I set up an internal reporting office?

In order to set up an internal reporting office, the employer may assign this task to employees as well as to external persons. The tasks of the internal reporting office must not lead to a conflict of interest for the person performing them.

To set up an internal reporting center, it is a good idea to use a web app. These are easy to manage and available around the clock. The capacities are virtually unlimited, especially with regard to the possible number of users and simultaneous reports. Employees can submit reports anonymously. A webapp as a reporting center can always be kept up to date in terms of data protection and IT security. Thus, a webapp is an easy, effective and transparent support for the implementation of the Whistleblower Protection Act.

What are external hotlines?

The external reporting office under the Whistleblower Protection Act is set up by the federal government. Employees are free to choose which reporting office they contact first. In terms of tasks and structures, they are essentially the same as internal reporting offices.

Tips for practice

Even though the Whistleblower Protection Act still has to pass the Bundesrat (upper house of the German parliament) as of December 2022 and will therefore not come into force until around March 2023, companies should take care of setting up compliant reporting offices in good time. The effort involved should not be underestimated.

A corresponding web app is a great facilitator in this regard. Of course, we also offer this service in addition to many other services in the area of data protection and data security. Contact us hereto find out about the possibilities without obligation. Our team of experts will be happy to advise you!

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