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Top time for tip-offs

Pressure put on employer-employee relations by the difficult times in the industry is reflected in a sharp rise in whistleblowing to the PSA, from 20 instances in 2015 to 36 last year.

“The ability to report concerns at work is an important right in Norwegian labour relations,” says Bjørn Thomas Bache, one of the authority’s directors of supervision.

 “Employers are duty-bound to make provision for such whistleblowing and are required to have a system which allows this.”

While the goal is to resolve issues within an organisation, that is not mandatory if the whistleblower feels it to be impossible. The need to turn to the authorities usually arises when the normal channels fail to provide a resolution.

The PSA has fixed routines for dealing with reports of concern. These include giving advice to employers and employees on the whistleblowing rules in the Working Environment Act.

“We take all whistleblowing seriously,” emphasises Bache. “But cases vary and are followed up differently in accordance with how serious they are.

“A written tip-off is registered in our archive system to ensure that it has been documented. If the contact is by phone, in a meeting or when we’re pursuing supervision, we ask for a statement in writing to avoid possible misunderstandings.

“Our first question is whether the matter has been raised internally in the company, and why not if this hasn’t been done. We also explain what more we’ll do – if we can.”

The report is then allocated to the relevant supervision team or discipline area for follow-up. If the matter concerned falls outside the PSA’s area of responsibility, it is passed to the right authority.

The PSA’s work with a tip-off depends on its content. One response could be to seek information from the employer in order to acquire other perspectives on the issue and make sure that the company is aware of it.

A similar approach is made to the relevant safety delegate service in order to establish which internal processes have been pursued so far, and if plans exist to follow up further.

“We then assess whether a meeting is required, or whether conditions need to be investigated more closely through an audit,” Bache explains.

“Certain tip-offs are simply noted initially, and assessed in relation to plans for later supervisory activities.”

He admits that not all issues have an outcome which satisfies the whistleblower. “We sometimes find that a gap exists between what they expect of us and what we can do to help.

“We can’t intervene in specific legal disputes between employer and employee, for example. If somebody get dismissed after they’ve blown a whistle, and feels this represents a form of illegal retaliation, they have to take their employer to court.”

The PSA is planning a major supervisory activity in 2017 on the provision made by the companies for whistleblowing. This will include an internal review of how it handles such cases.

“We’ve got good systems for following up these reports, but could become even better,” says Bache. “We sometimes see, for example, that we’re not quick enough in giving feedback to the whistleblower on how their case is being handled by us.”

New rules

Whistleblowing became regulated by law in Norway with the 2007 Working Environment Act. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs began a consultation in June on an amendment to this statute which would strengthen the whistleblower’s position.

That includes improved routines for such reporting, an expansion in the whistleblowing rules to encompass contract workers as well, and better protection of sources.

The ministry has appointed a committee to review the whistleblowing provisions, which will publish its recommendations in the form of a Norwegian official report (NOU) by 1 March 2018. 

Right to anonymity

When the PSA receives a tip-off about a matter of possible concern, the whistleblower’s identity must remain confidential.

Their name is only revealed, in response to a freedom of information enquiry or a request from the relevant company, if the person concerned agrees. Whistleblowing by trade unions is not normally treated in confidence.