One of our roles is to provide guidance to employers and employees about the whistleblowing rules in the Norwegian Working Environment Act. We also check that employers are fulfilling their duty to make provision for employees to exercise their whistleblowing rights.
The goal is that organisations resolve such cases internally. Generally speaking, the need to notify the authorities arises when the ordinary channels prove unsuccessful.
Want to blow the whistle about illegal or unethical behaviour in your workplace?
E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How we follow up whistleblowing
We register reports of irregularities (defined as “censurable conditions” in the English version of the Working Environment Act) made to us in our records to ensure they are documented.
If the notification is received by phone, in a meeting or while performing an audit, we ask the whistleblower to put their concerns in writing to avoid potential misunderstandings.
Right to anonymity
When we receive whistleblowing reports/expressions of concern, we have a duty of confidentiality concerning the whistleblower’s name or other identifying details. When we receive a Freedom of Information request or contact the company concerned, the name is only revealed if the whistleblower gives their name.
Allocation to supervision team or discipline
The whistleblower’s report will be allocated to the appropriate supervision team or discipline for action. If the irregularities being reported fall outside our area of responsibility, the whistleblower will be referred to the right government agency.
Has the issue been notified internally?
We then ask the whistleblower if they have raised the issue within their company and, if the answer is no, the reasons why they not been done so. We also explain what action we will take to the extent that we are able to do something.
Further work on a whistleblowing report depends on its content.
- One response might be to obtain information from the employer in order to cast light on the issue from several aspects and to ensure that the employer is aware of the alleged illegal or unethical behaviour.
- Similarly, the safety delegate service at the company may be contacted in order to check which internal processes have already been pursued and whether plans exist to follow up.
- We then assess whether a meeting is required or whether to take a closer look at the conditions reported through a specific audit. Some whistleblower reports are initially only noted, and assessed when planning subsequent supervisory activities.
Where are we unable to act?
We sometimes find that a gap exists between how whistleblowers expect us to respond and what action we have the authority to take.
We cannot intervene, for instance, in specific civil-law disputes between employers and employees. These are exclusively a matter for the two parties, and we have no authority over companies in such cases. However, we can provide general advice on the regulations.
If somebody is dismissed after they have blown the whistle and they believe this to be an illegal reprisal, they must pursue the case through the courts.
Confusion over terms
No clear distinction exists in Norwegian law and practice between “notification of censurable conditions” as defined in the Working Environment Act and “whistleblowing”. These terms are used interchangeably.
This causes some confusion in our area of responsibility, since the concept of “notification” in the HSE regulations is linked to the notification of hazards and accidents in the industry.
The companies have a duty to notify us of incidents which have or could have caused serious or acute injury or illness, serious undermining of safety functions or acute pollution.
To avoid misunderstandings, we therefore often use the generic term expression of concern for what the Working Environment Act refers to as “notification of censurable conditions”.