At the beginning of April 2022, we reported on the delayed activities of the German government to transpose the EU Directive 2019/1937 into national law. In our Update No. 2, we briefly reported on the revised draft law from Berlin. Now, under considerable pressure from Brussels - the EU Commission had initiated penalty-based infringement proceedings against Germany - a final version of the HinSchG has been waved through via a mediation committee in Berlin. The new law will come into force one month after its promulgation, probably in mid-June 2023.
Once again, the government has not exactly covered itself with glory. The traffic lights have been preoccupied with themselves for too long. The first drafts were constitutionally questionable and sloppy. The important concern of finally regulating the handling of reports on corruption, compliance violations and other fraud in public offices and companies in Germany was not met.
Critical voices have not been silenced. On the contrary, this new law also creates further legal uncertainties for companies. Companies and, in the end, the courts will again have to make up for lost time. Unfortunately, this is a development that can be observed more frequently in the recent past with attempts at regulation from the BMAS (Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs) (keyword ArbZG (Working Time Act) and time recording).
In brief: What are the most important changes in the final HinSchG?
Mandatory "must" provisions have become "should" provisions. The obligation to receive anonymous reports has been removed. Internal and external hotlines are now "supposed" to accept and process anonymous reports. Internal hotlines "should" be preferred if they can effectively deal with the violation internally.
The professional and factual context is put in the foreground. Whistleblowers must therefore limit themselves to information on violations that relate to the employer or another entity with which the whistleblower is or was in professional contact.
Finally, the new law contains lower fines. The maximum fine has been halved and is now only 50,000 euros.
In summary: what to do now?
The HinSchG will come into force next month. So the clock is ticking for companies with at least 250 employees. Even for "smaller" private companies - with between 50 and 249 employees - the grace period granted is only a few months. By 17 December 2023, they must have set up internal reporting offices.
Especially co-determined companies have no time to lose. We urgently recommend checking the existing reporting channels and correcting or supplementing them if necessary, also with regard to the possibly mandatory co-determination rights of existing works councils according to § 87 I No. 1 and 6 BetrVG. Since internal reporting procedures are usually suitable for controlling the behavior of employees and ensuring order in the company, the works council will have a right of co-determination.
Companies should not underestimate the amount of time and money required: The measures begin with the definition of reporting categories, the description of escalation processes, the implementation of tests and "dry runs" through to the final introduction of whistleblower systems. Internal communication and the successful sale of whistleblower systems require professional expertise and experience.