Finland – Whistleblowing Protection, Overview

1. Overview

For several years, Transparency International has ranked Finland as the least corrupt country in the world1. The general principles of openess, transparency and accountability of public administration are considered the main guarantees against corruption in Finland.

In Finland there is no specific whistleblower protection system to protect from discriminatory or disciplinary action public or private sector employees who report in good faith and on reasonable grounds. However in cases where there are whistleblower programs in place, these programs have to adhere to the requirements in the Personal Data Act (523/1999), the Act on Protection of Privacy in Working Life (759/2004) and the Employment Contracts Act (55/2001).

The Finish labor market system covers the public as well as the private sector. The main sources of Finnish labor law are legislation, collective agreements and individual employment contracts. The terms of an employment relationship may in practice be determined by several different norms, such as the provisions of a law, the collective agreement, the employment contract or some other agreement concluded at the workplace. Since both the provisions of law and the regulations of collective agreement have minimum mandatory status, it is always possible to apply norms of a lower degree in order to agree on terms that are more favorable for the employee.

The starting point for labor legislation is the principle of employee protection. Labor legislation includes mandatory provisions, which cannot be deviated from by agreement to the disadvantage of the employee. These include, inter alia, provisions created for the protection of the employee against unlawful dismissals, the preconditions in order to conclude a fixed-term contract, and the duty to apply the provisions of a generally applicable collective agreement.

2. Current legal situation.

a. Public Sector

The current size of the public sector is relatively large in Finland. The Finnish Constitution requires civil service and any exercise of public powers to be based on the law.

The principal leglislation within the public sector is the State Civil Servants’ Act (750/1994). In addition, the new Local Officials Act (304/2003) regulates the working conditions of approximately 50% of all local officials. Public servants are normally responsible for reporting illegal activities observed.

Finland does not have legislation as written codes of ethics concerning public administration. Instead the provisions of the State Civil Servants’ Act (750/1994) serve as a code of conduct for state officials and the Local Officials Act (304/2003) for local officials. These provisions state traditional values such as equality, legality, responsibility and impartiality.

There are also various guidelines and declarations on professional ethics, however nothing specific relation to whistleblowing.

b. Private sector

N/A

3. Disclosure procedures

In general there is no comprehensive system for disclosure. However, there is a general rule that an office holder normally is responsible for reporting if they have observed any illegal activity. Section 47 of the Local Officials Act contains an obligation to report offences “in well substantiated” cases to the police without delay.

4. Protection of the whistleblower

There is no specific whistleblower protection system against discriminatory or disciplinary action towards public or private sector employees who report in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities. Only indirect protections for anonymity and against possible retaliation and discrimination exist2.

Finnish authorites rely on the existence of some limited levels of witness protection, and the ability of employees who are dismissed without cause from their employment to bring action against employers under labour laws, as a result of the strong union movement in the country. However, the protection against dismissal afforded by the law is incomplete as it does not directly safeguard the employee’s right to continue working at the workplace in question. The sanction incurred by the employer for unlawful dismissal is only liability to pay compensation and in certain special circumstances also, inter alia, a fine. For private employees, there are no formal disciplinary procedures in cases of misconduct on behalf of the employee.

Labour laws only protect against dismissal and do not cover other forms of discrimination that may follow up a whistleblower report.

5. Conclusions

It is understood that in Finland the emphasis is on the problem, rather than on the whistleblower and this could be seen as one of the reason for why there is no legislation particularly aimed at protecting whistleblowers. In the last years there has been a gradual interest in ethics in the Finnish public administration – but not neccesarily in whistleblowing. This is mostly due to the fact that whistleblowing and whistleblowers are not valued by the the Finnish political and administrative sectors.

According to phase 3 of the OECD report3 Finland appears to rely on its long-held reputation as a transparent and non-corrupt society, rather than proactively raising awareness (in both the public and private sector).

6. Cases

The Turun Sanomat reported on 27 February 2012 that the State-owned passenger rail operator VRGroup was considering taking court action against the internet whistleblowing website Vrleaks, which has accused the company of maintaining its monopoly through ilegal means4.

Other than this no cases concerning whistleblowing in Finland.

7. Relevant legislation

English version
http://www.finlex.fi/en/

Finish version
http://www.finlex.fi/fi/

The Personal Data Act:
www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/haku.php?search%5Btype%5D=pika&search%5Bpika%5D=henkil%C3%B6tietolaki

The Act on Protection of Privacy in Working Life:
www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/haku.php?search%5Btype%5D=pika&search%5Bpika%5D=laki+yksityisyyden+suojasta+ty%C3%B6el%C3%A4m%C3%A4ss%C3%A4


1 http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi

2 Some of these indirect protections are contained in the Police Act , the Contracts of the Employment Act and Occupational Safety Act.

3 Report on the Application of the Convention on combation bribery of foreign public officials in international business transaction.

4 http://www.helsinkitimes.fi/news/index.php/finland/finland-news/domestic/1498-ts-vrgroup-to-consider-suing-whistleblowing-website