Workplace Ethics Advice
If an employee knows that a co-worker or supervisor is doing something that is against company policy, the first step is to determine what are the prescribed steps to bring these matters of concern to the proper authorities within the organization. Many organizations have whistle-blowing protocols such as to report the matter to an ethics and compliance officer (corporation) or inspector general (government entity). These folks have the authority to investigate alleged wrongdoing in an independent manner. Using these channels protects the whistle-blower because anonymity can be guaranteed, at least at the early stages of the investigation. The matter may have to become public as the investigation proceeds because the authorities and other interested parties have a right to question the whistleblower to ascertain their veracity.
The advantage of this approach is the proper authority can make a determination whether the complaint should become public because it is credible. At this stage, the whistle-blower should be protected by law. For example, whistle-blowers who raise issues of financial fraud in public companies are protected under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act of 2010. Federal employees of the government are protected as whistle-blowers under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. These laws also protect the whistle-blower from retaliation for voluntarily disclosing information about dishonest or illegal activities occurring in an organization.
Let’s get real. Whistleblowing can negatively affect one’ career, writes the firm of Allison Taylor. They point out prospective whistleblowers should be aware of certain downsides including: (1) you may be labeled within your industry as a whistleblower; (2) your professional and personal relationships may suffer; (3) you might encounter corporate retaliation; and (4) you may experience financial hardship while your whistleblowing case is under review.
While it is possible a whistle-blower puts their job at risk, these protections provide an outlet to sue the organization if retaliatory actions are taken such as demotion, drop in pay, or being fired. This isn’t an ideal scenario for a whistle-blower. However, whistle-blowing is a moral act that has its own reward, which is to stop a wrongful act before people get hurt. There is a public interest element behind the motive to blow the whistle on wrongdoing. Ideally, the whistle-blower should feel pride in their actions and the public should hold the whistleblower in high regard.
The bottom line is whistleblowing when done for the right motives – to right a wrong – and not for a financial reward that is provided under certain laws, is an act of courage. If you are involved in a whistleblowing case and would like my confidential advice, simply send me a message using the form provided on my Workplace Ethics Advice blog site.
Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 17, 2019. Dr. Mintz recently published a book, Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior, that explains how doing the right thing and being a good person can enhance well-being. The book is available on Amazon. Visit his website, sign up for his newsletter, follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.