Internal whistleblowing is the act of reporting any workplace misconduct to a designated person or department within the organisation. External whistleblowing is when the whistleblower reports their concerns to a third party, unconnected to the organisation in which the alleged offence occurred.

Types of whistleblowing

There are three main types:

Internal whistleblowing

Internal whistleblowing involves reporting misconduct and other wrongdoing through workplace channels. The matter is kept private while an internal investigation team handles the situation.

Internal channels can be managed by HR, the corporate compliance department, the audit committee or any other impartial party. The whistleblower uses a channel such as a digital tool (i.e., whistleblower software), email or telephone hotline to make their report.

External whistleblowing

External whistleblowing is carried out via bodies that are designated as appropriate by the national authorities. These can include government agencies, the police and designated authorities, such as the financial regulators.

Public disclosure

Another option to blow the whistle is to turn to the press or social media and reveal the issue publicly. For companies, this can lead to reputational damage and other negative consequences, which is why businesses are advised to implement internal reporting channels to encourage reports to be made internally.

Considerations for choosing internal vs external whistleblowing

The EU Whistleblowing Directive and the national laws created as a result of its implementation encourage whistleblowers to report internally in the first instance. This allows the organisation an opportunity to rectify issues.

However, if the whistleblower is not satisfied with the way the report was handled, or believes that they will be unfairly retaliated against for making their report, they can report to a designated external body.

In addition, if the reporting person is not satisfied with the manner in which the external party investigated their complaint, or they fear waiting for an investigation could lead to evidence being damaged or a danger to lives, they might choose to talk to the media and gain publicity for their complaint in that manner.