At the moment in Poland, there are no commonly binding regulations specifically addressing the status of whistle-blowers or granting them special legal protection. With a few exceptions that relate to either a particular sector or specifically protected goods, whistle-blowers may only benefit from the protection against discrimination in employment or in termination of employment contract, based on general rules.
Examples of specific protection are cases involving health and safety regulations: health and safety employees cannot be treated unfavorably for reasons attributable to their activity. Only employers from the financial sector are legally obliged to have internal procedures on employees who are whistle-blowers.
Two pending government projects refer to whistle-blowers: the Act on Responsibility of Collective Entities for Acts Prohibited Under Penalty and the Act on Transparency of Public Life.
Definition of whistle-blower
The Act on Responsibility of Collective Entities defines a whistle-blower as an employee, member of the management board or person acting on behalf or in the interest of the entity that allegedly violates the law. Such a person would have to offer information about illicit activities taking place at the entity that employs them or at which they collaborate (or of such organizational irregularities that may potentially result in violation of the law).
A similar definition is proposed in the Act on Transparency (natural persons and entrepreneurs), except that the status of the whistle-blower would depend on cooperation with the judiciary and confirmation of such status by the prosecutor. In the Act on Transparency, the whistle- blower may only report on certain offenses indicated in the act, whereas in the Act on the Responsibility of Collective Entities, the whistle-blower may report on all matters that are prohibited by law. Whistle-blowers generally can’t be anonymous, because the notification of the illicit actions needs to be brought to either the employer or to the prosecutor.
Protection of whistle-blowers
Whistle-blowers will be protected from unfair and discriminatory treatment, in particular against dismissal or termination of the contract with the entity allegedly violating the law. The court may rule to provide them with compensation or reinstate them to work if they are subjected to such treatment.
Another difference in the status of the whistle-blower in the Act on Transparency is that it would be granted through a decision by the prosecutor. Only after receiving such a decision would the whistle- blower be protected from being laid off. This act also allows for the dismissal of the employee if the prosecutor agrees.
Whistle-blowers in practice
There is not yet any unified or established practice of dealing with whistle-blower complaints, as the acts dedicated to the protection of whistle-blowers are still the subject of legislative proceedings.
But the Act on the Responsibility of Collective Entities is more likely to be implemented in the near future. That means the complaints of whistle-blowers would be dealt with through internal investigations by employers according to internal regulations.
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.