Are you active in a private sector entity with between 50 and 249 employees? Then mark 17 December 2023 boldly on your calendar. That is the deadline for small and medium-sized enterprises to introduce an internal reporting channel to report breaches under the Whistleblowing Act.
Whistleblowers: current situation in Belgium
For legal entities in the private sector, the Act of 28 November 2022 implements the European Whistleblower Directive (Directive 2019/1937) in Belgian law. This Act already entered into force on 15 February 2023.
Each legal entity with at least 50 employees must establish an internal channel for reporting breaches in several specific areas.
After legal entities with more than 249 employees were already required to implement an internal reporting procedure by 15 February 2023, it is now the turn of legal entities with 50 to 249 employees.
Are you active in such an entity? Then you still have time until 17 December 2023 at the latest to implement an internal reporting channel and the accompanying procedure.
Legal entities with less than 50 employees are not required to introduce an internal reporting channel, but they can voluntarily choose to do so. Legal entities in the financial sector are always required to establish an internal reporting channel, regardless of the number of employees.
The relevant threshold is calculated based on the rules for social elections. Note, however, that the calculation must be done at the level of the legal entity, and not at the level of the technical business unit.
The main features of the Act include:
- The scheme covers reports on breaches in relation to (1) public procurement, (2) financial services, products and markets, prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing, (3) product safety and compliance, (4) transport safety, (5) environmental protection, (6) radiation protection and nuclear safety, (7) human and animal food safety, animal health and welfare, (8) public health, (9) consumer protection, (10) protection of privacy and personal data and security of network and information systems, (11) combating tax fraud, (12) combating social fraud, and (13) the rules on the functioning of the European internal market (competition and State aid).
- Reporting should be possible for employees. You may also decide to open the internal reporting channel to self-employed persons, shareholders, persons belonging to the administrative, management or supervisory body, volunteers, trainees, staff of (sub)contractors and suppliers.
- Reporting persons are protected against retaliation if they had reasonable grounds to believe that the reported information was true at the time of reporting. Moreover, the breach must fall within the material scope of the Act. The protection against retaliation is broad (covering e.g. suspension, dismissal, negative performance evaluations, harassment, or reputational damage). The protection applies to any form of retaliation, including threats of retaliation and attempted retaliation.
- Protection measures not only apply to the reporting person, but also to “facilitators” (persons who assist a reporting person in the reporting process), and third parties connected to the reporting persons who may become victims of retaliation in a work-related context (such as colleagues or relatives of the reporting person).
- You must set up channels and procedures for internal reporting and follow-up, after consultation with the competent consultation body (the works council, or in its absence, the union delegation; in the absence of a union delegation, the committee for prevention and protection at work or, in the absence thereof, the workers themselves). You must provide the necessary information on the existence and use of the internal reporting channel.
- Legal entities with 250 or more employees must allow anonymous reporting. Legal entities with fewer employees are free to allow anonymous reporting.
- You must handle and follow up on reports in a timely manner and within certain strict deadlines, and you must provide feedback to the reporting person.
- Competent authorities for external reports and a federal coordinator will be appointed.
- In addition to the internal reporting channel, reporting person can also report through an external reporting channel or through public disclosure (e.g. in the press). In each of these cases, the reporting person is protected under certain conditions.
- The provisions touch upon public order; hence, no contractual or statutory derogations are possible.
- Violations of the rules on setting up internal reporting channels will be eligible for level-4 sanctions under the Social Criminal Code.
Are you active in a legal entity in the private sector with between 50 and 249 employees? If so, you should prepare for the introduction of an internal reporting channel in your legal entity by 17 December 2023 at the latest. Enquire about possible service providers for a reporting channel and prepare a draft policy.
We are ready with a multidisciplinary team to help you in this regard. We can advise and assist you in implementing a reporting channel in your legal entity, training report handlers, etc. In case of a report, we can advise your report handler on the appropriate approach to safeguard your entity’s interests.