The Whistleblowers Act regulates the rights and protection of whistleblowers and workplace irregularities in Germany as well. As the EU Whistleblower Directive required Member States to adopt national laws protecting whistleblowers by December 2021, Germany has implemented the EU Whistleblower Directive, an important step towards extending protections for whistleblowers. After significant delays, among other member states (Czechia, Estonia, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Hungary and Poland),[1] Germany’s Whistleblower Protection Act (HinSchG) finally came into force in July 2023.[2]

The Law on Whistleblowers - before and today

Prior to the whistleblower law, Germany was (and still is) well known for its rigorous and comprehensive legal system. The German civil law tradition goes back centuries and is based on detailed codified rules and procedures. In doing so, legal certainty and consistency are overriding principles. Germany's solid jurisprudence in areas ranging from commercial law to environmental regulations makes its legal system one of the most sophisticated and meticulous in the European Union. Careful application of the law has become ingrained in German society and governance. This strong tradition of the rule of law has provided a solid foundation when Germany implements the EU whistleblowing directive into its meticulous legal framework.

Nevertheless, when it came to the whistleblower law in Germany, the law was rather limited. There were only sectoral provisions on financial services and the protection of trade secrets. Courts relied heavily on guidance from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Consequently, this left substantial uncertainty on the rights and safeguards for whistleblowers.

The new law aims to provide more clarity on permissible disclosures and protections. From requirements for companies to implement internal reporting procedures, to prohibitions and sanctions for retaliation against whistleblowers. As in any other country, change comes slowly but steadily.

One of the most high-profile recent German whistleblowing cases involved Pav Gill, who was a manager at the financial services company Wirecard. In 2016 he detected accounting irregularities indicating fraud and reported the matter internally. Wirecard, however, failed to investigate and covered up the misconduct. This prompted Gill to turn to the media to persevere in exposing the fraud despite attempts at intimidation. In 2020, Wirecard finally collapsed after admitting to multi-billion dollar accounting holes. Gill's disclosure led to the CEO's arrest, though he faced extensive retaliation himself. His steadfast revelation of the truth despite retaliation risks demonstrates the tenacity required of whistleblowers.

Despite Germany's strong traditions of the rule of law, observers note that whistleblowers still face significant challenges. Changing the reality for them, however, requires strict enforcement of the whistleblower law, access to justice and counteracting cultural disincentives to speak out about wrongdoing. Strengthening the rights of whistleblowers can promote accountability and integrity in the German public and private sector.

Ongoing support is essential to ensure true security - from confidentiality to independent investigation of reports. As the whistleblower law plays an important role in accountability, Germany now has a framework to build on, enabling those who take the risk to disclose wrongdoing.


[2] Hinweisgeberschutzgesetz in Kraft getreten