Annual Report of the House for Whistleblowers:

Increase in Reported Suspicions of Misconduct in 2023

In 2023, 369 individuals who suspected misconduct at work contacted the House for Whistleblowers (Huis voor Klokkenluiders) for advice. This marked a 50% increase compared to the previous year. The complexity of the suspected misconducts also increased. The implementation of the Whistleblower Protection Act and media attention to misconduct played a role in this increase. Simultaneously, a significantly higher number of employers also sought advice from the House, particularly concerning the setup of a proper reporting system or conducting internal investigations into misconducts. These details were highlighted in the 2023 annual report of the House for Whistleblowers.

The suspected misconducts that people approached the House about included issues related to the handling of trade secrets and personal data, suspicions of fraud, or violations of safety regulations. Additionally, as in previous years, the House received numerous reports concerning social (un)safety and inappropriate behavior on the workplace floor. The cases that the House classified as ‘whistleblower cases’ predominantly occurred in healthcare, education, and within municipalities.

“Those who raised issues with us often pointed to the behavior of their organization’s top management as part of the problem,” said Wilbert Tomesen, chairman of the House for Whistleblowers. “As soon as employers, with the whistleblower’s permission, know that the House is monitoring the handling of a report, this alone often triggers them to take a closer look at the matter. This frequently leads to employers adjusting their initial approach.”

At the House for Whistleblowers, anyone who wants to report a work-related misconduct can seek advice. The house offers employees independent, confidential, and free advice.

In 2023, 369 people contacted the House for advice, suspecting misconduct at work. This number was up from 243 in 2022. Notably, the 2023 cohort included more (political) officeholders, managers, confidential counselors, and self-employed persons than in previous years.

“Confidential counselors often approached the House, whether for advice on an individual case within their organization or for more general questions about the role of confidential counselors in reporting incidents. Interestingly, those counselors who sought our help did not always possess the necessary (basic) knowledge about reporting. This is particularly evident when we see that an employer has not sufficiently invested in supporting individuals who take on the role of confidential counselor. The importance of this for a smooth reporting process is still not sufficiently recognized by those employers.”

With the enactment at the beginning of 2023 of the Whistleblower Protection Act (Wbk), self-employed individuals are also legally protected against disadvantage if they have made a report. “However, we still regularly hear from self-employed individuals that they are being disadvantaged,” said Tomesen. “Addressing a reported potential misconduct by simply not renewing a contract is not a solution. Employers must always take such reports seriously.”

Of the 369 advice requests, 37 were identified as ‘whistleblower cases,’ as defined in the Wbk. The House determined that these cases involved a reasonable suspicion of misconduct that affects ‘public interest.’ Half of these cases occurred in the semi-public sector. For example, in healthcare, cases involved unqualified personnel performing medical actions, potentially compromising patient or client safety. Additionally, several employees from the academic world approached the House, primarily concerned with violations of academic freedom. Other recurring issues included non-compliance with safety regulations by vehicle manufacturers.

In most whistleblower cases, the whistleblower experiences disadvantage.

This often involves bullying, social isolation, intimidation, termination of employment, or threats. “When whistleblowers approach us, they often already have a conflict with their employer. Of course, we think along with them about how we can best help, but this limits our ability to intervene. The earlier people come to us with a suspicion, the better we can help them achieve a satisfactory resolution,” said Tomesen.

One of the ways to achieve a suitable approach for both the whistleblower and the resolution of the misconduct and/or disadvantage is through Tailored Cases. In these cases, the House involves the employer with the whistleblower’s permission. Last year, 12 Tailored Cases were conducted, six of which have been concluded. These are confidential and are not published. Additionally, the House published three investigations. One investigation concerned a misconduct involving the hiring of external personnel at an environmental service. Another study addressed both a misconduct at an implementation organization and the disadvantage experienced by a financial worker after making a report. The third investigation focused on the disadvantage of a chairman of the Board of Commissioners of a housing corporation.

Not only employees who suspect misconduct can approach the House. The number of employers that contacted the House in 2023 (276 organizations) also increased by more than 50%. These inquiries were primarily about setting up a reporting system or conducting internal investigations. They also sought advice on trust-based work within the implementation of the law. Tomesen stated, “Prevention is better than cure, and therefore

we pay a lot of attention to prevention towards organizations. If an organization maintains a successful reporting policy, where whistleblowers and reports are taken seriously, misdeeds can be prevented.”

Source: Huis voor Klokkenluiders, 18 maart 2024

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