On June 21, 2023, the Flemish Parliament approved a new decree protecting whistleblowers in educational institutions in the Flemish Community. Regulations for universities are included in the Codex Higher Education of October 11, 2013.
The whistleblower regulation aims to protect staff members when they report information obtained from the work environment about violations of Union law as stated in Article V.230/2 of the Codex Higher Education. The reporting does not cover interpersonal complaints that concern only the reporter.
The reporter is acting in good faith and has good reason to believe that the information reported is accurate at the time of the report and that it falls within the scope of the whistleblower policy.
The goal of this policy, at the corporate level, is to:
• List the procedural possibilities on the basis of which the existence of a potential breach within the company can be reported, and
• Inform those to whom this policy applies of the protections for a reporter of a particular violation.
In this way, the company wishes to provide transparency as to how certain abuses within the organization can be raised so that they can be further investigated and, if necessary, appropriate action taken.
The current policy was implemented in the company in compliance with any existing rules within the organization regarding social consultation.
3.1 Material scope
The following (potential) violations identified by reporters, or so-called "whistleblowers," may be reported by them:
a. All possible violations (an act or omission) involving:
• government contracts;
• financial services, products and markets, prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing;
• product safety and product compliance;
• transport safety;
• environmental protection;
• radiation protection and nuclear safety;
• food and feed safety, animal health and animal welfare;
• public health;
• consumer protection;
• protection of privacy and personal data, and security of network and information systems;
• combating tax fraud;
• social fraud prevention.
Any violation of the legal or regulatory provisions or the directly applicable European provisions, as well as the provisions taken in execution of the aforementioned provisions falls within the scope of this law;
b. Infringements affecting the Union's financial interests.
c. Internal market violations (including violations of Union competition and state aid rules).
3.2 Staff scope
This policy applies to anyone who identifies and reports (potential) violations of Union law in a work-related context, the so-called "whistleblowers."
Can be considered a whistleblower under current policy:
• Employees of the company, former employees of the company and candidates in the context of a recruitment within the company;
• Self-employed persons, contractors and subcontractors and their personnel or appointees with whom the company works;
• Shareholders and members of the company's administrative, management or supervisory body (including non-executive members);
• Suppliers with whom the company works and their personnel;
• Volunteers and interns;
This policy also applies to:
• Facilitators (a person who assists the whistleblower in the reporting process and whose assistance must be confidential);
• Third parties related to the whistleblowers who are at risk of retaliation (such as colleagues or family members of the reporter);
• Legal entities owned by, or related to, whistleblowers in a work-related context.
4. Notification procedure
Whistleblower regulations distinguish three types of reporting channels:
a. Internal reports
b. External notifications
A person who identifies a breach or potential breach can always report it through the most appropriate and accessible channel.
Whistleblowers who wish to make a report within the organization about a potential violation as described above have the option of doing so in writing and/or orally.
However, whistleblowers are encouraged to follow the internal reporting procedure in the first instance, before possibly proceeding to an external report. In this way, an effective and rapid solution can be sought on the spot, within the company, and immediate and pragmatic action can be taken.
4.2 Internal reporting
4.2.1 Procedure for internal reporting
Staff members who wish to report a breach in a work-related context can do so through the contact person of the internal reporting channel who serves as the recipient of the report.
Contact can be made through any of the following channels:
• E-mail: email@example.com
• By letter addressed to:
• Wim Van Driessen
• Boogkeers 5
• 2000 Antwerp
• Make an appointment in person at the number: +32 3 265 49 42
Each of the aforementioned channels is managed in a secure manner to ensure the confidentiality of the identity of the whistleblower and any third party named by him, as unauthorized personnel do not have permission to access these internal reporting channels.
The authorized persons always guarantee a neutral and independent follow-up of the report and the absence of the emergence of any conflicts of interest. The authorized persons will always conduct themselves with professionalism and integrity, treating the report with the necessary discretion and ensuring a careful follow-up and handling of the received report.
4.2.2 Follow-up internal report
Within 7 days of submitting a report, the whistleblower will receive an acknowledgement of receipt.
Feedback will be provided to the whistleblower within a reasonable time, and at the latest within 3 months of receiving the acknowledgement of receipt, regarding the actions planned or taken in response to the report, as well as the reasons for this follow-up. This feedback will not contain details on specific persons and may therefore be of a more general nature.
Feedback can relate to:
• referral to other channels or procedures in the case of reports that concern only the individual rights of the reporter;
• termination for insufficient evidence or other reasons;
• the initiation of an internal investigation and possibly its findings and measures to address the alleged problem.
4.3 External reporting
4.3.1 Procedure for external reporting
The whistleblower may also use an external reporting channel, either after an internal report has already been made, or by appealing directly to an external reporting channel, if it is deemed more appropriate. The report may be made either orally or in writing.
For universities, as provided in the Higher Education Code, the College of Government Commissioners acts as the external reporting point.
Externals must report to the College of Government Commissioners.
Infringements can be reported to the College, preferably via email at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Government Commission may also be contacted through the following channels if desired:
Complaints office Government Commission for Higher Education
Consciencegebouw, tower 7C, bus 915
Boulevard du Roi Albert II 15
Phone: +322 553 98 15
Information about the external hotline can be accessed through the website Complaints office for Whistle Blowers Higher Education (vlaanderen.be)
The government commissioner is bound by professional secrecy; personal information and the report will be dealt with strictly confidentially. The identity of the reporter is never disclosed.
4.3.2 Follow-up external notification
When a whistleblower makes a report to the College, a preliminary investigation into the admissibility of the report is first conducted. No later than seven days after the receipt of the report, the reporter (if there is no opposition nor a threat to the protection of their identity) is informed of the receipt of the report as well as whether or not the report can be dealt with and whether or not the reporter has a protection status based on the information communicated. Within three months of receiving the report, the reporter is informed of any follow-up steps. This may concern both the content of the report and the protection status.
Whistleblowers who disclose a possible violation, e.g. through the press or other public media, only enjoy the protection established in accordance with the law of Nov. 28, 2022, if the following conditions are taken into account:
a. The whistleblower first made an internal and/or external report, for which appropriate action was not taken within the set time limit (failure to receive feedback is not a sufficient reason for enjoying protection).
b. The whistleblower has reasonable grounds to believe that:
1. the breach may pose an imminent or real danger to the public interest, for example, if there is an emergency or a risk of irreparable harm; or
2. there is a risk of retaliation in the case of external reporting, or it is unlikely that the breach will be effectively remedied, due to the particular circumstances of the case, because, for example, evidence may be withheld or destroyed, or an authority may collude with the perpetrator of the breach or be involved in the breach.
4.5 Register of notifications
All reports received are registered in a secure and confidential manner. To this end, a specific register is maintained by the reporting manager with all reports received.
When a recorded telephone call or physical conversation or other recorded voicemail system is used for the report, the company has the right to record the oral report, with the whistleblower's consent, in one of the following ways:
• by making a durable and retrievable recording of the conversation; or
• by a complete and accurate record of the interview by the reporting manager.
The company will give the whistleblower an opportunity to review, correct and approve the record of the interview by signing it.
When an unrecorded telephone or physical conversation, or other unrecorded voicemail system is used for reporting, the company has the right to record the oral report in the form of an accurate record of the conversation made by the reporting manager.
The company gives the whistleblower the opportunity to review, correct and approve the record of the interview by signing it.
5. Duty of confidentiality
Under no circumstances may the identity of the whistleblower who makes a report in accordance with this policy be disclosed to anyone other than the reporting managers without their free and express consent. This also applies to any other information from which the identity of the whistleblower can be directly or indirectly inferred.
Internal channels are secured as much as possible to ensure the confidentiality of the identity of the whistleblower and third parties named in the report, as well as to prevent access by unauthorized personnel.
Notwithstanding the previous paragraph, the identity of the whistleblower may be disclosed where it is necessary and proportionate under the law in the context of investigations by national authorities or in the context of judicial proceedings, in particular to protect the rights of defense of the person concerned.
6. Protective and support measures
6.1 Ban on retaliation
Any form of retaliation against whistleblowers who report a possible violation in accordance with this policy, including threats and attempts of retaliation, is prohibited, particularly in the following ways:
• suspension, temporary retirement, dismissal or similar action;
• demotion or denial of promotion;
• transfer of duties, change in location of workplace, reduction in pay, change in working hours;
• withholding training;
• negative performance evaluation or employment reference;
• imposing or applying a disciplinary action, reprimand or other sanction, such as a financial penalty;
• coercion, intimidation, harassment or exclusion;
• discrimination, adverse or unequal treatment;
• failure to convert a temporary employment contract into an employment contract for an indefinite period of time, in the event that the employee had a legitimate expectation that they would be offered employment for an indefinite period of time;
• non-renewal or early termination of a temporary employment contract;
• damage, including reputational damage, especially on social media, or financial loss, including lost sales and revenue;
• blacklisting based on an informal or formal agreement for an entire sector or industry, preventing the person from finding employment in the sector or industry;
• early termination or cancellation of a contract for the provision of goods or services;
• revocation of a license or permit;
• psychiatric or medical referrals.
6.2 Support measures
Any protected person (whistleblower, facilitator, third parties or legal entities related to the reporter) who believes they are a victim of or threatened with retaliation in a professional context may file a reasoned complaint with the Federal Coordinator, who will initiate an extrajudicial protection procedure. This possibility is without prejudice to the protected person's right to apply directly to the Labor Court.
The whistleblower has access to the Federal Institute for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (FIRM/IFDH) regarding the support measures listed below, provided by law:
• complete and independent information and advice, easily accessible and free of charge, on the remedies and procedures available that protect against retaliation, as well as on the rights of the data subject, including their personal data protection rights.
• technical advice regarding any authority,
• legal aid in cross-border criminal and civil proceedings,
• technical, psychological, media-related and social support for whistleblowers,
• financial assistance to whistleblowers in legal proceedings,
Whistleblowers are eligible for protection provided the following conditions are met:
• be in good faith and thus have reasonable cause to believe that the reported information regarding the potential violations was accurate at the time of reporting; and
• the information was within the scope of the law; and
• have made an internal or external report, or a disclosure, in accordance with the law.
Anonymous whistleblowers also enjoy protection under the above conditions if they are later identified and become victims of retaliation.
7. Processing personal data
Any processing of personal data is conducted in accordance with the European Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR) and the legal provisions on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of their personal data.
Personal data that are clearly not relevant to the processing of a specific report should (in accordance with the principle of minimum data processing) not be collected, or if collected unintentionally, be deleted immediately.
The legislation provides for sanctions against any person (natural or legal) who:
• impedes or attempts to impede a report,
• retaliates against the whistleblower,
• brings unnecessary or vexatious proceedings against the whistleblower,
• violates the obligation to keep the whistleblower's identity confidential.
Whistleblowers enjoy protection when the aforementioned conditions are met. However, the legislation provides for sanctions when they are found to have intentionally reported or disclosed false information.
Persons who suffer damages as a result of such reports or disclosures are entitled to damages in accordance with contractual or extra-contractual liability.
9. Effective date and changes to policy
This policy takes effect on December 1, 2023 for an indefinite period of time, subject to changes in relevant legislation or amendments by the company.
The company reserves the right to amend the policy unilaterally at any time. The most recent version of this policy can always be consulted on the intranet.