Traditionally, companies in France trying to utilise hotlines as part of whistleblowing policies and procedures have struggled as the French authorities have a tendency to view them as non-compliant with national legislation and therefore null and void.
Pre- recent changes the general situation was that companies were only allowed to record and collect information via hotlines where there was a serious situation relating to banking, accountancy, financial issues and/or corruption. Hotlines were also acceptable where they were dealing with issues relating to compliance with competition law but only when the issues raised were made to “answer to a legislative or regulatory requirement”.
The use of hotlines is governed by CNIL and the organisation clearly has a tight regulatory command. If a company did want to use hotlines that fell outside the very limited scope of usage as outlined above then permission had to be sought from CNIL, with a very poor rate of success.
However, the policy has been tweaked and modified to allow a slight extension in the use of hotlines to include issues in relation to environmental protection, fighting against discrimination and harassment in the work place and health, hygiene and security at work. In particular, stretching issues to include discrimination and harassment is very positive and potentially ground breaking.
Usually, the authorities insist that the whistleblower names themselves in order for the whistleblowing to be valid. However, anonymous alerts are now allowed in exceptional circumstances.
Clearly this is a small step but could represent a very important one in ensuring that hotlines are more effectively utilised within French companies in allowing more appropriate and relevant whistleblowing to take place. Commentators argue that it may be the first of many other steps in liberalising the system and allowing global compliance models to be rolled out without too many exceptions.
We will keep you updated.
Global Labour Law Unit