Whistleblowing: Dutch Style
On July 1, 2016, the Dutch Whistleblowers Act (Wet Huis voor klokkenluiders, “Whistleblowers Act”) came into effect, requiring all employers in the Netherlands with 50 employees or more to implement internal reporting procedures and ban retaliatory acts against employees who report wrongdoing. The Act also created an external administrative entity to assist whistleblowers, the House for Whistleblowers (“House”). The House performs both advisory and investigative functions.
What Did NOT Happen
Like other whistleblower laws in Europe, the law in the Netherlands did not create a mechanism for the whistleblower to commence an action on behalf of the government, or provide any award as an incentive for whistleblowers to come forward.
Before the July 2016 implementation of the Act, all whistleblower reports were handled by the Advice Center for Whistleblowers in the Netherlands. However, at the time, there was no specific legislation dedicated to whistleblowing.
As we have noted in separate blogs related to whistleblower laws in France, Canada, and Germany, a lack of uniform and meaningful whistleblower legislation leads to a shortage of whistleblowers. The lack of reporting motivated the Dutch Parliament to enact the Dutch Whistleblowers Act. The Act created the House for Whistleblowers that includes departments for Advice, Investigation, and Research and Prevention. Despite the enthusiasm and optimism in the Dutch Parliament for the Whistleblowers Act, the progress for moving reports through the House was slow. In 2017 and 2018, changes in the House leadership, increases in staffing, and new processes were aimed at streamlining whistleblower reporting.
Who Can Be A Whistleblower in the Netherlands?
Whistleblowers are broadly defined under the Whistleblowers Act as individuals in an employment relationship with a Dutch organization who report wrongdoing related to a public interest. Whistleblowers can be current employees, former employees, trainees, or volunteers. The wrongdoing must relate to non-compliance with legislation, risk to public health, danger to public safety, environmental hazards, or risk to a governmental organization. To receive protection under the Act, whistleblowers must have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. A reasonable suspicion requires the whistleblowers to personally observe the wrongdoing, not base their reports on secondhand knowledge or rumors.
What Protections Can a Whistleblower Receive?
The Whistleblowers Act amended a number of Dutch laws (the Civil Code, the Central and Local Government Personnel Act, the Police Act of 2012, the Military Personnel Act of 1931, and the Works Councils Act) to protect whistleblowers in the public sector and the private sector from retaliation. Under the Act, whistleblowers may not be disadvantaged in any way for good faith reporting of suspected wrongdoing. “Disadvantages” include, but are not limited to: bullying; demotion; refusing a promotion; transfer; or dismissal. The Act also provides psychological and social support to whistleblowers (although more guidance is expected on this provision this year).
How to Blow the Whistle in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, employees must first report wrongdoing internally to their employer. If the employer fails to address the reported concerns, the employees must then report to an external supervisor. If the external supervisor does not adequately address the report, the employees may submit a request for investigation to the Investigation Department of the House for Whistleblowers. This request for investigation may be submitted electronically on the House for Whistleblowers’ website or through the mail.
Even though it is not mandatory, the House for Whistleblowers encourages potential whistleblowers to contact the Advice Department of the House before submitting a request for investigation. The Advice Department advises and counsels whistleblowers regarding the reporting process, follow-up steps whistleblowers should take, and risks associated with blowing the whistle.
The Take Away
The Dutch Whistleblowers Act is a good first step toward a whistleblower program, but leaves much to be desired. While the Act prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers, it does not establish penalties for employers who retaliate. The Act requires employers to set up internal reporting procedures, but does not include consequences for employers who fail to do so. The Whistleblowers Act alludes to psychological support for whistleblowers, but does not provide details or procedures for implementing them. Critically, the Whistleblowers Act does not include a financial award to Dutch whistleblowers, in spite of the recognition by the House for Whistleblowers that financial hardships associated with blowing the whistle often prevent whistleblowers from following through with the reporting process. Without such incentives it is unlikely that the Act will have its intended impact.