It has been widely acknowledged that workplaces need to cultivate working environments where individuals feel confident in raising concerns about potential wrongdoings, such as misconduct and illegal actions. Thus, it is important to foster a culture that allows employees to raise issues without having to fear that whistleblowing will affect their employment. To achieve this, it is essential that employers carefully consider how to organise whistleblowing in their specific organisation.
Hannes Snellman held a whistleblowing breakfast seminar at its Helsinki office on 13 March 2017. Johanna Haltia-Tapio, Anders Bygglin, and Jussi Talvitie of our Employment Law and Dispute Resolution Teams, together with Erkko Korhonen of our IP & Technology Team, introduced the topic from the point of view of an employer in the context of Finnish labour law and applicable data protection rules. The practical side of the subject was covered by our guest panellists Eija Pitkänen (Sustainability, Ethics and Compliance Officer, Risk Officer at Telia Finland Oyj) and Markus Skrabb (Chief Compliance Officer at UPM-Kymmene Oyj).
A few key factors to be taken into consideration when setting up a whistleblowing system in Finland:
- Implementation? In organisations to which the Act on Co-operation within Undertakings (334/2007) is applicable, the deployment should be handled in accordance with said act before deciding on a system, and employees should be notified of the use and elements of the system. Clear and comprehensible information builds confidence in the whistleblowing system.
- Data handling? The employer should ensure that both internal and external data handling is carried out correctly. Furthermore, it is extremely important to define the intended use of personal data in addition to what kind of information is appropriate, essential, and necessary for the process.
- Responsibility?It is crucial to define how the organisation operates in connection with compliance matters and how responsibility is shared within the organisation. Furthermore, even if a whistleblowing system is organised externally or on a group-level, a Finnish employer is nevertheless responsible for all decision-making and processing of any provided information.
- Employer’s obligation to investigate? It is essential that employers understand their legal obligation to investigate the true status of notifications in whistleblowing systems and investigate the reliability and accuracy of information provided via such systems. Furthermore, before making a decision, an employer must inform the relevant employee of the information received as well as hear the employee’s views on the circumstances.
- How to deal with employees subject to whistleblowing? Finally, an employer should keep in mind that a termination of employment or any other consequences for the employment relationship of an employee subject to whistleblowing are always dependent on the existence of lawful grounds in accordance with the Employment Contracts Act. Before acting, an employer should ensure it has sufficient evidence on all related facts.
Associate at Hannes Snellman