The protection of whistle-blowers was introduced in the Serbian legal system in 2014 when the Law on Protection of Whistleblowers came into force. This law sets forth the rights of whistle-blowers, the procedure of reporting and the obligations of public authorities related to whistle-blowing.
A whistle-blower is defined as an individual who discloses violations related to regulations, human rights, threats against life, public health and other issues. These issues must be related to the employer, an employment procedure, the use of services by the state and other bodies, holders of public authority or public services, business cooperation or ownership rights in a company.
The law gives a certain level of legal protection to whistle-blowers, and it extends to related persons (in case they suffer damage from retaliation against the whistleblower) and to persons falsely labeled as whistle-blowers.
The law prescribes that the person responsible for receiving the information has an obligation to conceal the identity of the whistle-blower in order to avoid any retaliation aimed toward him or her. Nevertheless, the identity of a whistle- blower could be disclosed to the relevant authorities in cases of vital importance.
Whistle-blowers have the right to compensation in case they suffer damage.
The law recognizes three types of whistle-blowing:
- Internal whistle-blowing
(disclosing information to the employer). In this case the law prescribes an obligation for the employer to regulate the process of internal whistle-blowing procedures.
- External whistle-blowing
(disclosing information to the state authorities). A state authority is obliged to process the information reported within 15 days.
- Public whistle-blowing
(disclosing information via public media, the internet or any other means of public sharing).
The whistle-blower who has been the subject of a harmful action due to whistle- blowing has the right to court protection within six months from the day of becoming aware of the harmful action, or three years from the date when the harmful action was taken. Court proceedings in connection with whistle-blowing are urgent and move swiftly.
Only a year after the law came into force, the first court verdict was announced in favor of whistle-blowers. Ever since, the process related to whistle-blowing has been developing. In the light of this, the nongovernmental organization Pištaljka (The Whistle) has been dealing with raising the collective awareness of citizens about whistle-blowing and its consequences.
Recently Pištaljka made an agreement with the Public Prosecutor’s Office to jointly work on the repression of corruption.
In October 2018, the court rendered a groundbreaking verdict in favor of a whistleblower, the former director of Belgrade’s Institute for Emergency Medical Care, confirming a long-term reprisal toward him for disclosing criminal activity at the institute in connection with private burial companies. This verdict represents a historical step against the criminal network that exists within the state system.
On the other hand, despite the modern regulations prescribed by the law and nongovernmental organizations raising awareness about whistle-blowing, the practice has not reached a satisfactory level of protection of whistle-blowers, especially in internal affairs (in situations where employees disclose information to employers about corruption within the company).
As the protection of whistle-blowers is still not sufficiently developed in Serbia, individuals rarely take steps toward whistle-blowing against their employers since they fear retaliation, manifested in discrimination in the workplace or even dismissal from work.
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.