What Does EU Whistleblowing Law Say About Anonymity?

The EU Directive leaves it to Member States to decide whether organizations are required to accept and follow up on anonymous whistleblowers. However, even if a Member State decides not to include such a requirement in its national laws, this by itself does not mean that accepting and following up on anonymous reports would not be allowed.

Can a Whistleblower Disclose Anonymously?

Generally, an organisation should acknowledge and allow for the following types of whistleblowers:

  1. open – firstly, the whistleblowers identify themselves without requiring that their identity be kept secret;
  2. confidential – secondly, the identity of the whistleblowers and any information that can identify them is known by the recipient but is not disclosed to anyone beyond a need to know basis without the whistleblowers consent, unless required by law;
  3. anonymous – thirdly, the anonymous whistleblowers do not disclose their identities.


Excluding anonymous reports from the whistleblowing system is not supported in practice and is detrimental for the organisation. About half of all reports are submitted anonymously. Hence, limiting whistleblower channels to open or confidential reports substantially decreases their effectiveness as a wrongdoing detection tool.

What Are the Arguments Against Whistleblower Anonymity?

It is argued that anonymous reports are more likely to be intentionally wrong or misleading. However, it is also claimed that allowing for anonymous whistleblowers increases the reporting beyond any reasonable capacities of processing. Such assumptions are unfounded. In practice the share of substantiated reports is similar for anonymous and open/confidential channels and allowing for anonymous reports does not lead to a reporting tsunami.

In many cases anonymity remains whistleblower’s best protection against retribution. Insisting on only open and confidential reporting may be distractive and communicates a wrong message to whistleblowers. Instead of focusing on the content of their reports, this approach focuses on their identification. Moreover, this may be more complicated and time consuming than one would expect. Nevertheless, when anonymous reporting is allowed it is important to make whistleblowers aware that anonymous reporting can limit the ability to both investigate and protect the individual against retribution.



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