How is whistleblowing regulated in Turkey, and how are those who report on institutional failings perceived?
Although there is no official translation for 'whistleblowing', this term has been generally translated into Turkish as 'bilgi uçurma', which means the conveyance of information. However, as will be discussed later, this term can be understood by Turkish society as 'spying' or 'snitching'.
In recent years, with the effect of technological developments, accessibility in social media and international developments in terms of whistleblowing (e.g. the EU Whistlebower Directive and the Heinisch/Germany decision), this term has entered the Turkish agenda and especially Turkish Labour Law.
The legal framework
Turkey has not yet enacted any specific whistleblowing regulation; however, we find it important to mention the (limited) legal regulations that include the concept of whistleblowing.
ILO – Termination of Employment Convention, 1982 (No. 158)
Article 5/c of this Convention, which was enacted by Turkey in 1994, states that the filing of a complaint or the participation in proceedings against an employer involving alleged violation of laws or regulations or recourse to competent administrative authorities shall not constitute valid reasons for termination.
Occupational Health and Safety Law (No.6331)
Under this law, in the event of non-compliance with the employer's safety measures, occupational health and safety specialists must notify first the employer and then the authorised ministry. The employment agreement of the workplace doctor or the occupational health and safety specialist cannot be terminated due to this notification, and these individuals must in no way face forfeiture of any rights.
Turkish Code of Obligations (No.6098)
Article 396 of the Code of Obligations states that as long as the employment relationship continues, the employee must do the work he or she undertakes diligently in protecting the employer's rightful interests. The employee's obligation to keep secrets is also the result of the duty of loyalty, and we think that whether the whistleblower employee will be legally protected is going to be subject to clearer evaluations in doctrine and case law in the future.
Turkish Criminal Law (No.5237)
Under Article 278 of the Criminal Law, a person who has knowledge of criminal offences which are in progress or have been committed must report these offences to the competent authority. Therefore, if the act constitutes a crime, it can be said that there is a legal obligation to report it to the relevant authorities.
These are limited regulations that do not provide sufficient protection for whistleblowers.
Although there is no case law on whistleblowing, a Supreme Court decision ruled that employees who criticise their employer by making a press statement in front of the employer's headquarters, reacting democratically and demanding improvements in their working conditions and wages, cannot have their employment validly terminated for that reason.
Social perception of whistleblowing
Over the years, some studies have been conducted on people from different professions and cultures about whistleblowing.
Research conducted in 2007 in South Korea, Turkey and England concluded that cultural and national differences affect individuals' whistleblowing tendencies. Research conducted in 2008 observed that even though nurses reporting improper practices to the relevant authority figure generally experience negative results, they still tend to make reports. Other research findings have shown that, among the reasons for whistleblowing, teachers primarily consider the aims of the school they work for and the benefits of school members. In this research, which was conducted by Celep and Konakli (2012), it was also observed that female teachers are more likely to report malpractice than male teachers.
While whistleblowing is a moral act, in society sometimes this ethical behaviour is expressed with words loaded with many negative meanings, such as spying, snitching and disloyalty.
Implications of whistleblowing in a workplace
Whistleblowers may be exposed to accusations in various ways and may face risks in workplaces. Perhaps the most important risk is retaliation. This can take various forms: drawing attention to the whistleblower, forcing the whistleblower into silence by threats, bullying, destroying or damaging the whistleblower's career.
It has become important that the concept of whistleblowing, which serves to ensure transparency for organisations, is regulated by countries, including Turkey. These regulations will not only create security and protection for those who disclose information, but also ensure that a culture of acting in accordance with the law and ethical rules for workplaces takes seed. In addition, training, programmes and campaigns should be given more importance to raise awareness about whistleblowing in the society.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.