Confidentiality and Anonymity in The German Whistleblower Protection Act
The enactment of The German Whistleblower Protection Act (GWPA) on 12 May 2023 marked a significant milestone in promoting transparency and accountability in the corporate sector. This law aimed to provide legal safeguards for individuals who expose wrongdoing within organizations.
The GWPA, also known as the “HinSchG,” mandates several requirements on organizations regarding confidentiality and anonymity in whistleblowing cases. This law not only encourages employees to report violations but also ensures the safety of the whistleblower from retaliatory actions
To understand the importance of whistleblower’s protection, it is essential to discuss the two fundamental elements of the whistleblowing reporting system: confidentiality and anonymity.
Confidentiality and anonymity in reporting
Whistleblowers often face the risk of retaliation from the individuals or organizations they expose. Confidentiality and anonymity help shield whistleblowers from such reprisals, as their identity remains unknown. This protection encourages more individuals to come forward without fear of personal or professional consequences.
The GWPA imposes strict obligations on organizations regarding whistleblower confidentiality. It requires employers to establish effective reporting channels that prevent the disclosure of the whistleblower’s identity throughout the reporting process.
This obligation extends beyond simply keeping the names of individuals mentioned in a report confidential. It includes protecting any information that could potentially reveal the identities of these individuals.
However, confidentiality is different from anonymity, where the identities of whistleblowers are not known. While the law does not require organizations to set up reporting channels that enable anonymous reports, it mandates them to accept and process anonymous reports. This requirement could present a challenge for organizations.
Addressing the Challenge of Anonymous Reporting
While anonymity can encourage individuals to come forward, it may be difficult to enable two-way communication between the whistleblower and the investigator without knowing the whistleblower’s identity. Gathering additional information regarding the report could become an impediment in the investigation.
As a third-party whistleblowing system solution, Canary WBS helps organizations maintain anonymity in reporting through the Canary Mute feature. This feature enables two-way communication without the whistleblower having to provide any personal information, such as email addresses and telephone numbers.
The whistleblower can submit reports and receive updates, including communicating with investigators, without the need to create an account, but using only a combination of passwords and report identification numbers. In the end, maintaining anonymous reporting enables organizations to create an environment that promotes transparency, accountability, and a culture of integrity.
In the end, maintaining anonymous reporting enables organizations to create an environment that promotes transparency, accountability, and a culture of integrity.
The law will come into force in mid-June 2023 for all German companies and organizations with 50 or more employees. For companies employing between 50 and 249 individuals, a transition period is in effect until December 17, 2023. Larger companies with 250 or more employees are required to establish an appropriate whistleblower channel by July 2, 2023. Failure to comply with the law may result in fines.