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New European Directive sets the rules on whistleblowing

Written by
Toffoletto de Luca Tamajo, working in employment law since 1925.
The recently adopted EU whistleblowing Directive gives wide-ranging protection to whistleblowers reporting on breaches of EU law and will require Italy to adapt its current, more narrowly defined whistleblowing regulations.

On 16 April 2019, the European Parliament adopted the Directive on the protection of persons reporting on breaches of EU law in a work-related context.

These new rules aim to enforce minimum common standards that establish greater protection for whistleblowers, providing for specific rules in terms of stakeholders, protection measures, reporting channels and sanctions.

In Italy, whistleblowing regulations were already adopted in December 2017.

With reference to the private sector, in Italy the legal protections provided for whistleblowers are only granted within the scope of a legal entity’s administrative liability and in terms of reporting channels and a prohibition on discrimination. By contrast, the new European provisions have a wider and more general scope than the Italian regulation.

Firstly, according to the Directive, the new rules apply to all legal entities with at least 50 employees, although this threshold does not apply to entities falling within the scope of EU legislative acts preventing money laundering and terrorist financing.

Secondly, even the material scope of the matter being reported is wider. Under the Directive, reports have to relate to:

  • breaches of EU Law falling within specific sectors (e.g. public procurement, public heath, financial services and consumer protection);
  • breaches affecting the financial interests of the EU;
  • breaches relating to the internal markets.


Conversely, in Italy reports must concern specific crimes, such as those committed by criminal organisations, as well as corporate or environmental crimes.

Furthermore, the new regulation specifically provides that the Directive does not only apply to employees and self-employed workers, but also to volunteers, trainees and individuals disclosing information acquired in a work-based relationship that has since ended.

In conclusion, for the first time, the EU has adopted specific obligations for Member States to protect and encourage whistleblowers, thus requiring Italy (and probably other Member States) to adapt their current legislation in order to implement an EU-wide common minimum standard.

Emanuela Nespoli
Partner - Italy
Toffoletto De Luca Tamajo