More on Whistle Blowing

Author: Yana A. Apostolova St. Clair, Esq.

More on Whistle Blowing

The act of whistleblowing is, and should be, unique to everyone. The deeper the media involvement and the bigger the scandal, the more complicated it is for the whistleblower. Revealing company misdeeds would on many occasions ruin one's relationships within the work environment and sometimes even within the relevant  industry. Knowing that whistle-blowing could compromise one's employment and even minimize job opportunities, can further discourage people from speaking out, and  many would remain silent for fear of retaliation on the part of their employer.

Protection: The available legal protection for whistleblowers will vary depending on the circumstances and the level of involvement. Although whistleblowing has limited judicial remedies, it is "protected under U.S. state and federal laws as a right of every employee to challenge the abuse of power on the part of government and corporate officials." (WhistleblowerLaws, 2009)  The U.S. Department of Labor enforces a number of Federal laws shielding employees who reported violations or refused to engage in unlawful activities. Further, the amendment to the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) is an improvement of the protection system, but to encourage whistle blowing more should be done for the protection of the whistleblower's identity. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) which is designed “to regulate employment conditions relating to occupational safety and health” (osha, 2007) is an example of governmental action protecting the individual. Each employee has the right to complain to OSHA, to seek an inspection and personal protection. To deter abuse however, individuals speaking out should have to provide documents or other evidence to a Federal Commission dealing with such matters. This would further ensure a whistleblower's safety and protection. It is a good idea for a potential whistleblower to seek the advice of an independent consultant, and in such situations the identity of such an employee should not be revealed. Thus, even if an employee does not have the courage to directly blow the whistle, he/she should be viewed more favorably regarding future liability.

Attempting a peaceful solution: Providing some avenues for reporting questionable activities available to employees is the best way of resolving potential wrongdoings. In many instances situations could be at an early stage of misdeed, and in light of potential criminal acts, a company might prefer a peaceful solution to the problem. Sometimes it is best for an employee to first discuss a suspected problem with his supervisor/manager. If this is a company with endorsed ethical values, and Corporate Integrity Agreements (“CIA”) such behavior would be supported. Many companies encourage employees’ participation in decision making which may improve the work environment, thus minimizing the necessity for whistle blowing. Mistakes can happen, and if more people within a company are informed and involved, the problem could find a faster, better, and cheaper resolution. Further, depending on the type of business and in almost all instances there are practices and approaches where the omissions could be totally unintentional and an early warning would save actual and opportunity costs.
Whistle blowing at a higher hierarchical level could be more difficult, especially when the person to turn to is the actual wrongdoer. Ethics is the science of right conduct and as such is the primary characteristic of humanity. The way people define and practice their professional ethos is a measure of our humanity and each individual is personally responsible for one's own ethical approach. Many people would find courage to report corporate misconduct when the future of many is at stake. However, although whistle blowing is an ethical duty to everyone, there are people who find it difficult to face its consequences, and we as a society need to be understanding. It would be cruel for the public to blame certain individuals simply for being weak.  

Disclosure: Please note that none of the information contained within the above column is to be considered legal advice.

BeijingSifang June 2016