• Insights

Cultural attitudes to whistleblowing: Poland

Written by
Raczkowski largest boutique firm focusing on HR law.
Attitudes to whistleblowing in Poland are shaped by a fear of ‘snitching’ on colleagues, and a perception that employees and employers are not on the same ‘side’.

As an EU member state, Poland was obliged to implement the Whistleblower Directive. The implementation deadline expired in December 2021, but the Directive has not yet been adopted into Polish law. An indolent, non-transparent legislative process and the lack of any government initiatives (e.g. social campaigns) to promote the benefits of the regulations, prompt questions as to the true intentions of the Polish legislator as well as the level of social awareness and attitudes towards people who report violations.

Channels for reporting breaches of law are known in the Polish legal system; they have been functioning for several years in companies operating on capital markets or in entities with anti-money laundering obligations. Current legislation does not, however, include provisions on whistleblower protection; the main focus is on obtaining relevant information about potential misconduct in the market, regulated activity, etc.

In the private sector, especially in large and international organisations, procedures for reporting breaches of law/internal policies are quite often adopted, but it is difficult to draw any conclusions as to the standards of whistleblower protection, since no reliable data concerning the outcome of the reports and follow-up actions is available.

In 2020, the Batory Foundation, one of the largest non-governmental organisations, which aims to build an open, democratic society, published a report entitled Guardians of Democracy: New Perspectives on Whistleblower Protection. The report presents the results of surveys concerning employees’ views on reporting irregularities at the workplace.

The results showed firstly that the main concern connected with whistleblowing is social ostracism: being considered as a traitor or an informer. This attitude results from the Polish cultural and historical background, but it clearly proves that it is not fear of retaliation by the employer that stops potential whistleblowers, but the sense of loyalty towards colleagues and fellows.

Secondly, research shows that employees strongly distinguish between the employer’s interest and their own good, not noting the common interest. The employer is perceived as a ‘stranger’, while the colleagues are ‘on the same side’. This viewpoint and the lack of trust negatively affects perceptions of policies created by the employer and results in a reluctance to share sensitive information within organisations.

Thirdly, studies suggest that if employees were to report any violations, they would report breaches of their rights by the employer much more willingly than offences and irregularities involving their colleagues. At the same time, they do not trust trade unions, which are often perceived as ineffective and dependent on the employer.

Misconduct/wrongdoing in the workplace, strictly related to violations of work conditions or employees’ rights, constitute the basic category of irregularities that employees would report. This category of infringements is not explicitly mentioned in the Directive, which means that it is up to the employer to decide whether to accept such reports.

Fourthly, the research indicates that the first instinct of a Polish employee who wants to ‘blow a whistle’ is to turn to the enforcement agencies or to the State Labour Inspectorate. A potential whistleblower does not believe in the effectiveness of internal reporting and does not trust in the objectivity of an internal investigation.

This information demonstrates that, apart from the new legislation, there is a great challenge to change mentalities and build trust between employers and employees as well as confidence in widely understood institutions and procedures. In Poland, the latter is currently at an exceptionally low level, which is also a result of historical conditions. The last 30 years of dynamic economic and systemic transformation in Poland has also been a period of enormous and rapid social changes, affecting individuals’ sense of security and featuring social and political divisions.

For employers, this translates into a need to develop an organisational culture which requires an active and visible commitment from managers. It can be achieved not only by adopting internal procedures, but primarily though awareness-raising activities and training, aimed at building and promoting a common value system.

The political aspect may also play a significant role in the implementation process of the Directive. In discussions about the reasons for the delay, it is pointed out that the Directive also covers state-owned companies, whose participation in the economy is growing. These companies are dominated by the ruling party’s nominees, and reporting of irregularities in these organisations could pose a threat to the interests of the government.

Janusz Tomczak
Partner - Poland