Whistleblowers in Eastern Europe begin to prevail

While most Western European countries continue to struggle to pass and enforce whistleblower protection laws, many of their Eastern European counterparts are scoring victories. These successes can be attributed to anti-corruption projects and campaigns supported by the EU, UN and other international organisations.

Here are some recent cases in which the courts have ruled in favor of victimized employees.

Ukraine: Protection for the first time of a family member

In the midst of war, Ukrainian officials always have the presence of mind to protect whistleblowers. For the first time under its 2019 Whistleblowers Act, a family member of a bribery witness has won a retaliation case in court.

“This is an important precedent in the history of Ukrainian whistleblowing,” said Serhiy Derkach, head of corruption prevention and detection at the Ukrainian National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NACP). “Ukraine not only protects the rights of whistleblowers, but also their families.”

The case began when a person learned that a local public official had provided false information on an asset declaration form. Following an investigation, the police opened a criminal case of illicit enrichment against the official.

A relative of the whistleblower, who is a school principal, was then reprimanded by local officials. The whistleblower and the parent asked the NACP for protection from retaliation. The agency intervened on the parent’s behalf in court, which ruled the reprimand illegal and overturned it. In addition, the head of the municipality was ordered to pay moral damages.

“Usually family members are an easy target for victimization because they live in the same community,” Derkach observed. “Whistleblowers are reluctant to speak out because of the possible negative impact, not only on them but on their families. We believe that by providing legal protection to family members, more whistleblowers will be encouraged to make a disclosure.

Romania: rare victory for a dismissed employee

Romania is well known in anti-corruption circles for having one of the oldest whistleblower laws in the world and the first in continental Europe. But the 2004 measure has rarely been tested. A notable victory was reported in July.

Local media reported that a court ordered the reinstatement of a water system technician who was fired after speaking out against political patronage during the hiring process. Among the nepotistic appointments, the technician reported being forced to hire a former waitress to work as a water management engineer in a flood-prone river basin. Romania’s ruling National Liberal Party is also said to have organized the hiring of pre-school teachers and lottery workers with no relevant experience.

While working in the city of Bârlad for Apele Române (“Water Romania”), the technician revealed the scandal last February in interviews with several media. (WNN retains its name although it is already public in Romania.)

Then-president Florin Cîțu claimed that his position was eliminated via a reorganization. “I tell you the cold facts,” Cîțu reportedly told local media, “this post has been deleted. He was offered another position and he did not accept it. He was not fired. »

A court disagreed with Cîțu’s assessment. A judge ordered the local water agency to reinstate him in his old job and compensate him for lost wages and €400 in legal costs.

Moldova: Historic victory for a public employee

Since adopting its first whistleblower law in 2018, Moldova has received support from European and international experts to set up its protection system and enforce the law. The efforts paid off.

The Office of the Ombudsman of Moldova registered its first successful case. (WNN is withholding all identifying information to protect the whistleblower.) A public employee known as “Hon. X” was intimidated and harassed after reporting misconduct within the agency. The retaliation resulted in his dismissal.

Following an investigation, the ombudsman confirmed that the employee had suffered retaliation and that the agency had mishandled reports of staff misconduct. The agency ignored the ombudsman’s recommendation to reinstate the employee and end further retaliation. With the support of the Ombudsman, the employee went to court, which found that the agency had violated his rights and ordered his reinstatement.

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