Broken Law: Denmark Passes Empty Rights for Whistleblowers

Denmark Whistleblowers

Danish lawmakers seem to have forgotten about Hans Bøgesvang Riis. He’s the lawyer who was fired in 2013 after reporting unprofessionalism and poor working conditions at Denmark’s National Board of Workplace Injuries. Riis, who tried but failed to be reinstated, said the agency’s stressed and frightened caseworkers were issuing decisions that were filled with mistakes.

Also slipping the minds of lawmakers are the 30 other public employees who’ve reportedly told the Parliamentary Ombudsman that they suffered retaliation after reporting irregularities at work.

The proof of lawmakers’ poor memories lies in the new whistleblower law passed by Parliament on June 24.

The misleadingly titled “Act on the Protection of Whistleblowers” includes no mechanisms whatsoever to protect employees from retaliation. The law says people “shall not be subjected to retaliation” and that unfair dismissals “shall be overturned.” But it says nothing about how a victimized employee can be reinstated or compensated for damages – nor does it even define damages.

Incredibly, the law allows employers to fire a whistleblower if it is “unreasonable” to maintain the employment relationship. This means a company or public agency simply can label an employee a “management problem” and dismiss the person with impunity. In this way, the law essentially legalizes whistleblower retaliation.

Moreover, the law requires employees in some cases to prove that making a disclosure was “necessary.” The law does explain who will make this determination or how, placing employees at a further disadvantage.

In the end, Denmark has passed a law that appears to gives more rights to managers than to workers. Parliament members did not respond to WNN’s requests for an interview to explain the law’s shortcomings.

Denmark is the first country to comply with a 2019 EU Directive that requires all 27 members to enact comprehensive free speech rights for employees. These new laws are supposed to protect employees from reprisals, compensate them if they are victimized, allow them to report crime and corruption directly to the public, and punish people who retaliate against them.

In addition to Denmark’s law, proposed legislation drafted by seven other EU countries also lack meaningful mechanisms to protect and compensate whistleblowers: Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania and Sweden. These proposals were reviewed by the National Whistleblower Center and European Center for Whistleblower Rights.

The two groups, along with the law firm of Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, are urging Parliament members and public officials in all EU countries to fully transpose the letter and spirit of the Directive into their new laws.

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