Whistleblowing is the act of revealing classified information about an organization or managers within the organization about possible wrongdoings or conduct deemed unethical. This is different from filing a complaint as it requires going to a third party, such as a governmental agency, media or to the public. The person ‘blowing the whistle’ is labeled as whistleblowers, a word that is synonymous with infamy.
Whistleblowers play an integral part in shaping up the society we live in because they bring to light most of the malpractices taking place behind the curtains. Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the CIA, revealed classified information to the press regarding the surveillance of phone calls and text messages done by the NSA on general citizens. This brought a rather sensitive topic about personal data to the limelight and he has remained a polarizing figure ever since.
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What Are the Types of Whistleblowing?
There are no steadfast types but it can be narrowed down to 3 major sections:
1. Internal Whistleblowing
This involves reporting acts of wrongdoing to another party within the said organization. Some companies have a set of guidelines on reporting malpractices or have anonymous email or complaint services to protect the whistleblowers. Employees need to comply with the company guidelines to be safe from repercussions.
2. External Whistleblowing
This involves reporting acts of wrongdoing to a third party usually the press or law enforcement agencies. This is more of a tricky situation as the whistleblower must take actions in good faith and for the general good of the people. This cause helps them mount a case in the court of law.
How is Whistleblowing Beneficial for Your Business?
Employers usually view whistleblowing as hassles, costly and time-consuming lawsuits. Contrary to popular belief though, having a whistleblowing culture in your organization can reap rewards. Who better to identify fraud, misconduct, and harassment within an organization than people on the inside? They are the eyes and ears of the corporation and having them report such cases of wrongdoings allows you to act swiftly and put an end to such activities without much risk.
Also, this helps create an open and honest workplace environment, which makes employees feel safe and trust the management of the company. They are more likely to approach HR executives and file complaints directly without pursuing external whistleblowing.
This allows the organization to deal with misconduct internally without drawing media attention and creating a public scandal. Even if the incident requires filing a lawsuit to the authorities, you can prepare accordingly for the media frenzy, simultaneously taking action against the perpetrators involved.
How to Nurture a Whistleblowing Culture?
The best place to start with organizational whistleblowing is to have a concrete policy. The document should be circulated to all employees of the organization and be well-drafted by the organization with legal help. This should include but not limited to, an explanation of whistleblowing applications in the organization, drawbacks and a rough timescale of investigation of complaints, etc.
To promote whistleblowing culture, it is important to encourage it through meetings, posters, staff training, and monthly seminars to get people aware of the policy and understand how it works. Educating them regularly about the polices helps them keep in the loop and be aware of any wrongdoings taking place under their watch.
Whistleblowing Protection Laws
Whistleblower Protection Laws exist to protect whistleblowers from retaliation from their employers or agencies involved. Some of the laws in the United States are:
1. Whistleblower Protection Act of 1986 which was replaced by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. This was done to protect federal employees from the agencies they work for.
2. OSHA (the Occupational Health and Safety Administration) protects federal agents of over 20 federal agencies.
3. The Taxpayer First Act of 2019 protects tax whistleblowers.
4. State or organizational laws.
Why Do Whistleblowers Need Protection?
Employees who blow the whistle on their employers take a huge risk in their personal and professional life. Sometimes, employers can be vindictive and decide to sue the whistleblowers for espionage or retaliate in ways that ruin their careers and may even face legal repercussions.
Some ways employers retaliate include but not limited to are firing, blacklisting, demoting, denying overtime or promotions and benefits. To ensure whistleblowers feel safe and report misconduct, they need legal protection.
How Do the Process of Whistleblowing Work?
The “Complainant” is the whistleblower and the employer is the “Respondent”. OSHA administers most cases and the general investigation process is as follows:
1. OSHA reviews the whistleblowing lawsuit and interviews the Complainant to see which laws have been violated and what legal proceedings to take.
2. Investigators are assigned to the Complainant and Respondent, along with notifications to the federal agencies.
3. The investigators ask both parties to give each other a copy of everything they submit to OSHA.
4. OSHA asks the Respondent to submit a written defense.
5. Thus, formal legal proceedings start and OSHA asks both parties to participate.
In conclusion, whistleblowing is a double-edged sword. It has its benefits and drawbacks. Not all employers are open to the idea of whistleblowing and deal with employees with a strict hand. Even though there are protection laws, companies can have non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and confidentiality laws. These prohibit employees from external whistleblowing. If you’re a federal employee, you may face lawsuits involving treason or infringement on national security laws. But the truth needs to be heard. Snowden, Manning, and Bradley are just a few examples.
Corporate whistleblowing has existed for decades. As an employer, it is your choice to either embrace whistleblowing or criminalizes it. Having a practice of internal whistleblowing has shown to improve employee morale and make the workplace a better and safe place. This boosts productivity and makes employees feel part of the organization.