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Workers' voice and the right to manage - the case of whistleblowing in a comparative context

For the employers and businesses, it can be decisive that workers blow the whistle about wrongdoing to avoid dangerous situations and accidents. Still, it can be risky for workers to raise their concerns or blow the whistle. Managers and owners may have strong interests in suppressing the disclosure of information about wrongdoing.

In this study, we aim to understand how concerns are dealt with at three levels, namely national, sectoral, and organisational, and two sectors of the labour market, banks, and hospitals.

This study will be conducted in four countries – Norway, Denmark, Ireland, and UK - and aims to identify similarities and differences resulting from national legislation and labour market models.

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  • What makes workers "blow the whistle" and the consequences of doing so has been studied extensively.

    There are, however, two significant gaps in our knowledge. First, we lack knowledge about how employers facilitate and handle whistleblowing cases across countries. Second, we have little comparative knowledge (between countries and sectors) of whistleblowing processes.

    Such knowledge will give a better understanding of how institutional settings, such as legal frameworks, employment systems and organisational norms influence whistleblowing processes.

    To address the knowledge gaps, we raise three main questions:

    • How are the right to blow the whistle and the employers’ right to manage balanced in national law?
    • How are legal rules interpreted and transposed into organisational whistleblowing procedures by management and workers’ representatives?
    • How are legal rules and whistleblowing procedures practiced in organisations?
  • By combining legal, political science and sociological approaches, we aim to get a better understanding of the rationale of employers in their handling of whistleblowing cases.

    We will study how they balance two fundamentals but possibly conflicting democratic principles: the property right, as a basis for the right to manage, and freedom of speech as a basis for whistleblowing.

    We undertake a mixed method approach including document studies, interviews, and surveys. The study is divided into the following work-packages:

    • National law. The focus her is national law and collective agreements on the protection of whistleblowing. By examining the legal sources in the four countries, we will identify how the possible tensions have been addressed by legislators and bargaining partners and interpreted in case law.
    • Procedures at organizational level. We will examine how the regulations and key legal concepts at national level are filtered through sector level characteristics and interpreted and transposed into procedures at organisational level in banks and hospitals.
    • Practice at organizational level. We aim to identify and explain observed conformity or tensions in organisations between sectors and countries, and the impact of different employment systems in relation to outcome.
  • The project is conducted in collaboration between Fafo and:

    • Fredrik Engelstad, Professor (em) in Sociology at the University of Oslo. He has published widely on organisations, power, sociology of culture, and sociological theory.
    • Laura Kierans, who is practicing barrister and a lecturer at Maynooth University, Ireland. She has published extensively on whistleblowing law.
    • David Lewis, Professor of Employment Law and Head of the Whistleblowing Research Unit at Middlesex University, UK. He has been researching and writing about whistleblowing since 1993.
    • Natalie Videbæk Munkholm is Associate Professor in Law at Aarhus University in Denmark. Her research interests cover the right to manage and how this is restricted by legislation and collective agreements.
    • Marit Skivenes, Professor at University of Bergen/SNF, who is an established international researcher. She has an extensive record of interdisciplinary and comparative experience with relevant theoretical topics and methods.

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