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Nurse compensated after being fired for whistleblowing

Heinisch v. Germany  | 2011

Nurse compensated after being fired for whistleblowing

I finally had no other choice than to report my employer. 

‘Interview with Brigitte Heinish’, published by ‘A Change of Direction’, 9 February 2017 - © Photo ansTageslicht.de

Background

Brigitte Heinisch, a nurse in an old people’s home, blew the whistle on alleged staff shortages and low standards. She said that this situation was putting patients at risk and being covered up by her employer.

Mrs Heinisch was then fired. She challenged this in court, claiming that it had been unlawful to dismiss her for whistleblowing. The German courts rejected her claim, ruling that the sacking was lawful.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

Mrs Heinisch’s whistleblowing had concerned an issue of significant public interest. Her dismissal could have had a serious chilling effect on others reporting shortcomings in institutional care. By upholding her dismissal, the German authorities had failed to protect her right to report wrongdoing in her place of work, which was also of great importance to society at large. This had violated her right to free speech.

Follow-up

The German government said that the case resulted from a mistaken application of the law in a single case, rather than a shortcoming in legal protections for whistleblowers in general.

As a result of the Strasbourg judgment, Mrs Heinisch’s employment dispute was reopened in the national courts. Her former agreed to pay her 90,000 euros in compensation.