The concept of whistleblower protection is not new to the Romanian legal and social framework, being developed, at least at a general public sector level, by legislation dating back to 2004. The already-existing legislation in this field was implemented in the context of preparing Romania’s accession to the EU. The purpose of having a whistleblowing framework in the public field was to optimise public administration and maintain a professional environment, as well as involve personnel in the fight against corruption.
This legislation defined a whistleblower as a person who is employed in one of the public authorities or institutions (broadly defined) making a report in good faith concerning any fact involving a breach of law, professional ethics, principles of good administration, economic efficiency, effectiveness and transparency.
This legal framework covered legal infringements such as (among others) corruption offences, preferential or discriminatory treatment, breach of the provisions concerning incompatibilities and conflicts of interest, negligence or incompetence at work, administrative actions taken for obscure or private interest reasons, or against the public interest.
These whistleblowing mechanisms ensured protection for public sector whistleblowers, to encourage reporting and ensure they are not exposed to unfortunate consequences resulting from their reporting. Protection is also ensured by hiding the whistleblower’s identity, under certain conditions, as well as by judiciary measures. Mainly this means that, in employment litigation, a court of law may annul the disciplinary sanctions applied to a whistleblower for a public report made in good faith.
In terms of efficiency, the National Anticorruption Strategy (especially for the periods 2012-2015 and 2016-2020) indicated a considerable deficit in employees’ knowledge and awareness of integrity legal standards, including in the field of whistleblowing. Measures were deployed to address the situation at the level of central and local public administration, and by the end of the second period mentioned, an improvement in understanding of the whistleblowing field was registered. Nevertheless, the deficit in applying the existing whistleblowing framework remained.
During 2019, the Ministry of Justice initiated steps to join the Network of European Integrity And Whistleblowing Authorities. The network has so far provided a good opportunity for mutual learning with the aim of ensuring that whistleblower protection is strengthened. In addition, a programme aiming to strengthen the protection of whistleblowers was implemented by a partnership of human-rights-centred organisations APADOR-CH and ActiveWatch, funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through EEA Grants (2014-2021). The aim of this programme is to raise public awareness of the role of whistleblowers in Romanian society and to strengthen this role by creating an effective protection system in collaboration with state institutions and the private sector.
Between January 2018 and January 2021, Romania was also part of the Expanding Anonymous Tipping (EAT) Project (funded by the European Commission), which was set up with the aim of extending the user base for secure online dropboxes, particularly among private enterprises and public institutions, within 11 southern and eastern European Member States.
Despite the above, historically and socially speaking, Romanian work environments and relationships with the authorities have not tended to encourage whistleblowing, maintaining transparency or ensuring protection against abuse or retaliation. Whistleblowers are regarded as ‘informants’ or ‘snitches’. Constant changes in the political and public field, the continuum of the fight against corruption, as well as the social and political transitions happening in the last 30-40 years and the unstable development are factors that discourage individuals from reporting unlawful or inappropriate actions, fearing the consequences.
In practice, whistleblowing channels and policies are also implemented at the private sector level, at least at in large private companies. This is via internal rules, as generally companies with international presence already have these channels and policies in place. The general Romanian legal framework also contains a set of regulatory safeguards that may be useful when implementing whistleblowing channels and policies (prior to the Whstleblower Directive), such as prohibition of retaliation at the workplace based on employees’ claims relating to discrimination and harassment and an obligation on employers to establish and regulate a channel for addressing claims internally (and also for resolving them).
The proposal for transposing the Whistleblower Directive (currently under discussion by the Romanian Parliament) aims at boosting integrity and transparency both in the public and private sector, promoting a climate of integrity so that values are protected, both by remedying breaches identified and by tending to the image of the entity in question through enhanced public trust.
Historically there have been many cases where people decided to speak out (e.g. about the endemic nosocomial infections in hospitals) and positive results came from such actions. However, the experience of public sector whistleblowing (as concluded in a report developed by ActiveWatch and APADOR-CH at the end of 2021) has been that the majority of whistleblowers felt the need to go public with their claims. This was because they saw no developments internally and suffered severe professional and personal consequences after reporting.
Further campaigns and initiatives related to whistleblowing are anticipated in the near future in the context of the implementation of the new Whistleblower Directive, as the obstacles generated by the mentality around whistleblowing still remain an issue in Romania.