On 11 October 2018, the Saeima (the parliament of the Republic of Latvia) in the final reading supported the Whistleblowing Law with the aim of strengthening whistle- blower protection and promoting whistle- blowing on various violations that can harm the public interest. The law defines a whistleblower, instructs on how to report (spread alarm) and stipulates the basic requirements for processing the whistle- blower’s report.
The law, which will come into force on 1 May 2019, defines a whistle-blower as a person who provides information on possible infringement that can undermine public interest, if the person has grounds to believe this information to be accurate and it has been obtained in relation to work or establishing a work-related legal relationship.
The law aims to protect whistle-blowers by prohibiting the creation of adverse effects on the whistle-blower (e.g., to dismiss from a job, to punish, to demote), protecting the identity of the whistleblower, and offering a free legal aid provided by the State and a temporary protection in civil and administrative proceedings in the court.
The law stipulates that to spread alarm means to give professional-activity-related information in good faith on a possible infringement that can undermine public interest, if there are grounds to believe that this infringement is taking place, is planned or has occurred.
The whistle-blower will be able to spread alarm about possible offenses, misdemeanors or other violations of legal, ethical or professional norms regardless of where they have occurred. The law also defines the areas where it is particularly important to spread alarm in the public interest, including, but not limited to, inactivity, negligence or abuse of authority by a public official, corruption, tax evasion, public health, human rights and competition law.
The whistle-blower will be able to spread alarm in two ways — internally (at the workplace) or externally (to the competent authority). The law also stipulates the cases where the alarm can be spread by publicly disclosing the information. The whistle- blower can spread alarm through the Whistleblowers Contact Point, associations and foundations, trade unions or their associations.
The Whistleblowers Contact Point will be established in the State Chancellery on 1 May 2019. It will ensure that sufficient information and support for whistle-blowers, as well as methodological support for putting the whistle-blowing mechanism into practice, are accessible in one place.
In Latvia, work on the whistle-blowing mechanism started in 2014. Generally, there was no tradition nor specific legal framework on whistle-blowing in Latvia. The existing legal framework that could be applied in whistle-blowing cases was fragmented in terms of material and personal scope.
The duty for persons to spread alarm was attributable only to severe criminal offenses, whereas only specific groups of persons (officials) had the duty to report accidents in the economic sectors, unusual and suspicious financial transactions, possibility of an official entering into a conflict of interest or an existence of a conflict of interest, as well as on the suspicion of the legality of a task given by the higher officer. The absence of a special legal framework served as a serious obstacle for persons to spread alarm and to protect whistle-blowers from negative consequences. Only general legal protection mechanisms were available to whistle-blowers, e.g., a prohibition to create adverse effects to an employee (general provisions of the Labor Law of the Republic of Latvia), and a restriction of disclosure of the submitter’s identity without his or her consent (provisions of the Law on Submissions of the Republic of Latvia).
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.