How are multinational employers approaching whistleblower hotlines and guarding against whistleblower retaliation?

Whistleblowing and whistleblower hotlines in workplaces around the world have become very important in recent years. And so, a multinational operating internationally has a strong incentive to take a global approach here, issuing a global code of conduct, offering a global whistleblower hotline―and investigating whistleblowers’ claims in a globally consistent way.

The legal issues around whistleblowing have gotten surprisingly complex. And new whistleblowing laws have developed in quirky ways. For example, about 15 years ago, a huge hurdle was that European Union law threw up big barriers to company-sponsored whistleblower hotlines. Believe it or not, back then, France, Germany, Spain, and other European countries were hostile to whistleblower hotlines―especially ones that accepted anonymous whistleblower tips.

In those days, we had to give multinationals complex advice on how to restructure their American whistleblower hotlines for their European employees.

But then, surprisingly, the Europeans did a 180-degree about-face. In late 2021, the EU came out with its brand new “whistleblower directive” that now aggressively requires company-sponsored whistleblower hotlines (at least, at employers with 50 or more employees in a given European country). This new EU whistleblower law also prohibits whistleblower retaliation―and it establishes government hotlines. So Europe went from blocking hotlines to requiring them, and sponsoring them.

Beyond Europe and the U.S., some other countries also require employer-sponsored hotlines. Japan is issuing a new hotline requirement, and others might follow. (In America, by the way, publicly traded companies must offer an in-house hotline or whistleblower report “procedures.”)

Because whistleblowing law and whistleblower hotline law have changed so radically in recent years, multinationals―especially companies doing business in Europe―really need a proactive strategy to be sure their “offerings” for their whistleblower hotline and code of conduct retaliation provisions are up-to date and in compliance.

As always, please visit or consult your Littler attorney for additional guidance on these or related issues.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.