Skip to content

How do Austrians blow the whistle?

A small old street in ViennaTable of contents:


While someone is looking for easier ways, Austria demonstrates a significant persistence in complicating everything (for years). History is to blame: at first, it's about the cultural context of the country.  People still remember how it is to be an informant and which retaliation is waiting for you during the period of fascism.

Austrian law complements it with a history of legislative measures that either miss something or contradict it. As a result, Austria currently joins the list of countries that cover whistleblowing protection laws partially. 


So, how it started?


It started classically: Austria was a subject of great scandals regarding corruption in politics, which became public. The example of the European approach to such cases and external pressure made their thing but in a specific way.


Starting in 2012, whistleblowers have received the first legal shield of protection from discrimination.

However, in most cases, it was a matter of the whistleblower protecting himself by learning the procedure of reporting any kind of misdeed. The process has started, but there is no finish on the horizon. The public sector was covered, but the demand from the private sector for the same measures of protection is left unanswered. 


Losing data is scary


It's hard to figure out what precisely Austrian law wants you to do as a business owner in a mess of GDPR, internal data protection laws, and whistleblowing initiatives. The challenge is to make it simple, legal, and without a headache in the end. The rule to follow is simple: if you keep the information, authorize it.

The system is complicated because of the subject for processing — personal (which here is a synonym of sensitive) data. All the data from whistleblowers, which is processed by the company, should comply with the standards of the Data Protection Authority, an Austrian legal committee.


There is no standard registered application for processing requests from whistleblowers; therefore, you should ask for permission to implement the system and check if it meets the requirements.

You should clearly state who is keeping the data, for which purposes, and how you make sure that data is secure. It's all about the details that matter: Data Protection Authority demands a clear procedure of investigation for both the informant and the person accused of misconduct. Subjects should be informed about data collected on them and the results of the inquiry; also, the data should be deleted when you finish the investigation.

A big group of people crossing the road on pedestrian area in Austria

All the things to keep in mind


If you decided to have a whistleblower hotline, it might be necessary to know:

  • Corporate hotlines are not limited to financial issues, and you can adjust the system according to your needs.
  • Check it twice; data privacy should be thoroughly analysed (follow DPIA).
  • If the accusation is regarding a criminal offence, it should be processed externally. In another case, you should ask for permission to process it.
  • It can take a lot of time to implement your own system: consultancy, approval by the Data Protection Authority, and amending the system is not a matter of a week.
  • To transfer the data outside the EU, you will need permission to ensure that the parent company has the same law for data protection.


Chance for improvement


Considering all the hurdles on the way to an ethical work environment, Austria is far from perfect in this field. People prefer to stay anonymous due to existing recommendations to discuss the conflict with the employer before blowing the whistle to external committees. If your company is private without a whistleblower hotline (only the public sector is generally protected), you are trapped in a loop between the fear of retaliation and the willingness to help the community.

An internal whistleblower hotline isn't easy to organize; the process relies more on moral values and worldwide standards of work ethics than obligations from the country's law. Employees take a risk to be called "snitches" and lose; employers can lose money and influence. But the most important thing at stake is reputation, which should be protected by law: only in this case, Austria can have a comprehensive system for whistleblowers.