Although citizens’ rights to make complaints, suggestions and petitions to the authorities are constitutionally guaranteed, Bulgaria is among the countries that still do not have a legal act specifically dedicated to the protection of whistle-blowers. Thus, there is not a formal legal definition of what “whistle-blower” means, and there are no defined channels for reporting locally.
Due to this lack of an explicit legal framework and the existing risk of facing criminal charges for defamation, employees often fear exposing illegal or inappropriate activities at the workplace.
Moreover, due to historically conditioned reasons, whistle-blowers are usually seen as “traitors” or “organizational dissidents.”
Nevertheless, it is worth noting that some existing normative acts, namely the Administrative Procedure Code (APC), the Bulgarian National Code for Corporate Governance and the Act on Countering Corruption and Seizure of Illegally Acquired Property, contain provisions relating to the concept of whistle-blowing.
The effectiveness of those legal acts is rather questionable, as they contain very general provisions, which do not ensure sufficient protection in this area. Only the APC covers a wide range of misconduct, as it regulates disclosures related to corruption, abuse of power, mismanagement of public property and other illegal acts that affect state or public interests. However, its application is exclusively limited to public-sector wrongdoing, although any person or organization is encouraged to notify violations of the law.
However, legislation does not provide for a particular body to receive and handle these issues.
It should be also underscored that anonymously made disclosures, as well as disclosures relating to violations committed more than two years ago, are not subject to further investigations.
Not observing the confidentiality of whistle-blowers also greatly limits the law’s effectiveness, as many whistle-blowers fear threats or employment dismissals.
Moreover, people feel their reports will have no impact.
Further, the labor legislation applicable in the private sector does not expressly contain specific regulations in the area of whistle-blowing. The labor code only includes very general provisions granting workers the right to compensation in cases in which they are subject to unlawful dismissal, for example, but it does not directly refer to whistle-blowing as a reason for dismissal.
This lack of regulation in the private sector leaves employees without meaningful protection if they decide to report wrongdoings at work.
A common practice of Bulgarian companies and subsidiaries of foreign companies in the private sector is to govern whistle- blowing procedures through internal regulations. However, similar to the public sector, anonymous disclosures are usually not encouraged.
Following a number of whistle-blowing related cases in Bulgaria that received widespread media attention in the last few decades, public interest toward the concept has grown significantly. Despite this fact, Bulgarian legislators still seem reluctant to introduce a draft bill regulating whistle- blowers’ protection.
In conclusion, given the limited provisions governing whistle-blowing in the public sector and the lack of any applicable legislation in the private sector, whistle- blowing is still not a widely used tool in Bulgaria.
Country-by-country and EU whistle-blowing rules need to be taken into account in setting the best practices and policies in this growing area of risk, including what an employer must do when faced with a whistle-blower claim, such as whether an investigation is required, protections of the employee who complained of company practices and litigation issues.
Best practice requires companies to take action in advance by creating a hotline and training its employees in ethical behavior.