New protection for whistleblowers with the Whistleblower Protection Act

On 22 February 2023, the Whistleblower Protection Act (“ZZPri”) entered into force, implementing Directive (EU) 2019/1937 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2019 on the protection of whistleblowers in the legal order of the Republic of Slovenia.

 

Whistleblowers are natural persons who report or publicly disclose information about an infringement obtained in their working environment. This does not only include persons who work for employers on the basis of an employment contract, but also all natural persons in similar relationships on another legal basis (e.g. a sub-contract) are entitled to protection under the provisions of the ZZPri. Whistleblowers are entitled to protection under the provisions of the ZZPri if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the information declared at the time of the report was true and if they make the report in a timely manner, i.e. before the expiry of two years from the cessation of the infringement, and in a manner consistent with the provisions of the ZZPri.

 

The purpose of the ZZPri is to protect whistleblowers from retaliation. At the same time, ZZPri also sets out the procedures and modalities for whistleblowing, the obligations of the persons liable to establish internal systems for whistleblowing, and the powers of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption and other bodies to protect and support whistleblowers and to monitor the implementation of ZZPri.

 

In addition to whistleblowers, intermediaries and related persons (e.g. co-workers, relatives of the whistleblower and legal entities owned by the whistleblower) are also entitled to protection if they are likely to be or may be subject to retaliation as a result of their association with the whistleblower.

 

Any retaliatory measures are prohibited against persons protected by the ZZPri, in particular e.g. termination of employment, downgrading, transfer of work tasks, change of workplace, change of working hours, workplace mobbing, etc. In the event of retaliation, the whistleblower may seek legal protection before a competent court, without having to pay court fees, and is entitled to free legal aid, regardless of his/her financial situation.

 

At the same time, psychological support and, in certain cases, unemployment benefits are available to whistleblowers under the so-called support measures. The ZZPri also provides for the exclusion of the applicant’s liability to disclose information in the context of the report, which is not absolute. For example, the exclusion of the applicant’s liability does not apply to the disclosure of professional secrets of attorneys and health professionals.

 

In addition to the provisions on whistleblower protection and support, the ZZPri also introduces a mechanism for reporting perceived infringements. In this context, obliged entities are required to establish appropriate reporting channels, appoint a confidant to investigate and deal with reported infringements, and adopt a specific internal act defining the procedure for reporting, investigating, correcting infringements and informing the management of the procedure.

 

The ZZPri classifies as persons liable (i) public and private sector entities with 50 or more employees, (ii) entities with at least 10 employees if they carry out their main registered activity in the fields of health, wastewater management and other fields specifically provided for in the ZZPri, and (iii) certain state authorities and self-governing local authorities.

 

Private sector obliged entities employing more than 250 employees and all public sector obliged entities must establish and regulate an internal registration procedure within 90 days of the entry into force of the ZZPri, i.e. by 23 May 2023 at the latest. Private sector obliged entities employing less than 250 employees have until 17 December 2023 to do so.

 

The ZZPri divides offences committed by persons liable into systemic, minor and  serious offences. The Commission for the Prevention of Corruption is responsible for conducting and adjudicating proceedings concerning offences. The implementation of retaliatory measures against a whistleblower constitutes a serious offence for which a legal entity may be fined between EUR 5,000 and EUR 20,000, or between EUR 10,000 and EUR 60,000 in the case of a medium-sized or large company. Responsible persons can also be held liable for the offence and, in the case of serious offences, are liable to a fine of between EUR 500 and EUR 2,500. A minor offence, which carries a slightly lower fine, is, for example, a threat or an attempt to retaliate.

 

The offence of a whistleblower who intentionally declares or publicly discloses false information is ncluded as a specific offence. For such cases, the ZZPri provides for a fine of between EUR 400 and EUR 1 200.

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Law firm Sibinčič Novak & Partners
Dalmatinova ulica 8
SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

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