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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon

Workers’ voice and the right to manage – the case of whistleblowing in a comparative context

Alternative title: Arbeidstakeres ytringsfrihet og arbeidsgiveres styringsrett- varsling i et komparativt perspektiv

Awarded: NOK 11.9 mill.

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Project Period:

2021 - 2026

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Workers will often be in the best position to disclose illegalities and malpractice at the workplaces. Whistleblowing and employers’ ability to react and handle is important to avoid wrongdoing that can damage employees, businesses, patients and customers – or eventually – the society as a whole. It is also a basis in well-functioning industries and labour markets. This project will put the employers in the center of our analysis. There is a lack of knowledge about how employers facilitate whistleblowing and how they consider and handle such cases. To understand the rationale of employers in whistleblowing-cases, we will study how they balance two fundamental but possible conflicting democratic principles: the property right, as a basis for the right to manage, and freedom of speech as a basis for whistleblowing. We want to find out what kind of dilemmas and tensions that are released in connection with whistleblowing, and how employee loyalty affect workers’ voice. The study will be conducted in banks and hospitals in Norway, Denmark, Ireland and UK. Both sectors have vital importance in well-functioning societies. It is therefore decisive that workers are able to report wrongdoing without the risk of being sanctioned. These four countries have different employment systems and regulations, which will enable us to investigate how such differences might affect whistleblowing processes. So far, there is limited comparative knowledge in this field. During 2023, analyses of the survey conducted in the four countries have been carried out. Preliminary analyses in Norway indicate that employees perceive limitations to their freedom of speech, albeit less than in, for example, England. This is linked, among other things, to the fact that the two countries belong to different labor market models. Throughout the fall of 2023, efforts have been made to develop three briefs presenting key findings on freedom of speech and whistleblowing, as well as the methodological approach. These will be available in December 2023 at During the year, a Fafo working paper on the regulation of employees' right to whistleblow in the four countries included in the study has also been published (An overview of the right to whistleblow prior to the transposition of the EU-directive on whistleblowing). In 2024, we aim to publish findings from the study, including in peer-reviewed journals and op-eds.

Our aim is to obtain new knowledge on what makes employers suppress or encourage workers raising concerns. This will contribute to a better understanding of how employers balance two fundamental but possibly conflicting democratic principles: the property right and freedom of speech. We employ a multilevel and inter-disciplinary comparative approach inspired by institutional theory. The project combines legal method and social sience, and will make use of survey data, document analyses and qualitative interviews. WP1 will study how the right to manage and the protection of whistleblowers are balanced in national law, both identifying the intention of the legislator, how this is played out in preporatory work and case law. The countries included (Norway, Denmark, Ireland and the UK) have different law systems and employment systems. Different regulations, such as the level of overall employment protection, may reinforce or curb the exercise of whistleblowing. WP2 will examine how national law are filtered through sector level characteristics and transposed into guidelines at organisational level in banks and hospitals. In both sectors, law and professional ethics impose a duty on staff to raise concerns in certain situations. One question is how this duty is reflected in internal procedures. Drafting procedures can mobilise power resources of the parties involved, who will try to adapt and apply rules in a way that is consistent with their interests. The outcome can thus deviate from legislative intentions. WP3 will identify and explain observed conformity or tensions in organisations, and the impact of different employment systems when it comes to how legal rules and guidelines are practiced at organisational level. Can whistleblowing and its responses, be linked to the design of procedures, how the notion of the right to manage is translated into practice and whether the raising of concerns is supported by co-workers and workers’ representatives?

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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon