Sweden – Whistleblowing Protection, Overview

1. Overview

Legislation particularly aimed at protecting whistleblowers is non-existent in Sweden. The concept of whistleblowing is not defined in Swedish legal texts. Therefore, one must seek guidance in various statutory provisions, such as the Constitution, the Trade Secrets Act and the Employment Protection Act.

2. Current legal situation

a. Public Sector

Employees working in the public sector are protected by the constitutional freedom of expression which, with a few exceptions, gives them a right to publish information on whatever subject they prefer. Whether the information is given to the authorities or to the media is insignificant.

Whistleblowers in the public sector are protected by the constitutional informant protection, which is supposed to provide transparency in government exercise of power and to give citizens the opportunity to criticize how this is handled. Although the “duty of loyalty” exists in public employment the public interest of information is often more important.

b. Private Sector

According to Swedish Employment Law, an employment contract can usually be terminated only for objective reasons. An employee has the right to criticise an employer as long as he/she addresses the information to the right authority.

3. Disclosure procedures

The reporting in Sweden is usually made by email or phone or as an alternative option to other reporting methods.

When processing the information, the employer must ensure that the rules on the protection of personal data are being observed. In Sweden, data regarding criminal offences may be processed only by authorities in Sweden.

4. Protection

According to the Justice Department1, the protection for whistleblowers in private companies, which are publically financed, needs improvement.

There is no information on any additional legal protection for employees in the private sector. It can be noted that two official working groups found, in 1990 and 2001, that a more extensive protection for whistleblowers in the private section was not needed. There are no plans at this stage to legislate specifically on the protection of whistleblowers.

5. Conclusions

Sweden has one of the world’s most extensive freedoms of information laws. However, the existing provisions in various Swedish laws appear to give stronger protection to whistleblowers in the public sector than in the private sector. Freedom of Expression being one of the four pillars of the Swedish Constitution can protect disclosures, where in other countries such disclosures are protected by specific whistleblower statutes.

In Sweden, some famous “whistleblower” cases have given rise to specific legislative interventions such as the Lex Sahra amending the Social Services Act, which states that every person active in the care of elderly persons shall verify that these persons receive good care and have secure living conditions. Whoever observes or becomes apprised of a serious abuse in the care of any individual shall report the matter immediately to the social welfare committee.

6. Cases

Labour Court ruling 2011, no. 15.

This case concerned a nurse working at a hospital who claimed that his colleagues talked about patients with foreign backgrounds in a racist manner and also gave these patients a poorer care. The nurse participated in a televised public debate show. He neglected to mention to his manager. This led to problems with cooperation among the staff. The nurse got transferred to another department within the hospital, based on an appendix to the main collective agreement. Following this Labour Court ruling, it is clear that actions against whistleblowers taken by an employer in the public sector may be justified in some cases, e.g. if there should exist serious coordination problems and the nature of activities at the workplace requires that measures are taken, even if the cooperation difficulties arose as a result of the whistleblowing.

Labour Court ruling 2006, no. 103.

A Labour Court ruling from 2006 considered whether the dismissal of an employee of a sports club had legal grounds as the employee had sent out two critical emails concerning people on the club’s administrative board. The emails contained information about the fact that someone in the club had tried to embezzle the club’s money, which the management didn’t seem to take serious. The employee had, after he found out about the embezzlement, made a police report himself since he was of the opinion that the management had tried to put a lid on the situation. Both emails reached a large number of recipients. The court stated that because the emails were sent after the police report was made, and because their content had the character of attacking the suspects individually rather than of objective criticism of the club and therefore made the assessment that legal ground for the dismissal existed. In the assessment, the court also considered the fact that the employee had a relatively high position in the club and that the emails caused great harm for the club.

7. Relevant legislation

A link to the Swedish Constitution can be found here:
http://www.sweden.gov.se/sb/d/574/a/85512


1 Phone call on the 22nd of December 2011.