Whistleblowers in German workplaces run the risk that their efforts to comply with reporting laws will be “rewarded” with immediate dismissal. To date, no law comprehensively protects whistleblowers, so courts decide retaliation claims on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, some principles of what workers should do and what they should not do can be deduced from such cases.
COVID-19 Has Spotlighted Whistleblower Retaliation Situations
During the pandemic, there have been more cases where companies and employees have not respected strict safety rules and necessary hygiene guidelines. In one situation involving a German slaughterhouse, an employee recorded a video about the unsustainable conditions in the company canteen that endangered workers and exposed them to the coronavirus. After sharing the video online, the company dismissed the employee without notice.
From a public policy perspective, whistleblowers play an important role. Like the state, the public has a legitimate interest in knowing about unlawful practices and seeing that the illegal or unethical behaviour is remedied. At the same time, employers expect loyalty from their employees, hopefully encouraging them to raise issues internally and not expose the company to premature or unwarranted and considerable negative economic consequences.