The Meaning and Importance of Whistleblowers
In 1773, founding father Benjamin Franklin exposed confidential letters that proved the governor of Massachusetts at that time misled Parliament to further restrict the colony’s liberty. In a matter of days, the governor was discharged and exiled. This event made Benjamin Franklin one of the first whistleblowers in U.S. history.
But what does whistleblowing actually mean?
What Is Whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing is the act of exposing information about a person or organization committing unlawful and/or fraudulent activities.
The term is derived from the phrase “blowing the whistle.” In sports, referees blow their whistles to signal an athlete’s foul play and to stop them from continuing to do it. Police officers blow their whistles to alert someone of wrongdoing.
As such, we use “whistleblowing” or being a “whistleblower” today to indicate someone exposing the truth after they’ve observed fraud or corruption, usually within their workplace.
Types of Whistleblowing
Whistleblowing can take place within the workplace or in the court of law. Who exactly you are blowing the whistle to makes a huge difference in how things operate.
Internal or organization whistleblowing is the act of reporting unlawful practices of an individual or a group to a superior within the organization. For example, the might include reporting your manager’s discrimination against an employee from a marginalized background to HR.
Plenty of companies, headed by their HR departments, have a “tip line” and other procedures that encourage internal whistleblowing to reduce the risks of malpractice. However, you must be careful about companies who use these tip lines to prevent outside accountability.
External or public whistleblowing is the act of reporting wrongdoings in an organization to an outside authority. For example, you may report your company’s fraudulent accounting practices as a government contractor to the federal government. This would take the form of a private citizen filing a Qui Tam whistleblower lawsuit on behalf of the government under the False Claims Act.
Often, a whistleblowing case can be incredibly important to report as many expose an illegal activity that poses a substantial and specific danger to the public at large.
This is a more ideal option if you’re working at a place where higher-ups themselves are involved or may benefit from the fraudulent activity you’re trying to stop, or if you’re a federal employee.
The Gravity of Being a Whistleblower
Being a whistleblower is daunting, especially when you’re exposing corruption in a powerful institution or that of someone in a higher position.
Despite being an ethical thing to do, whistleblowing can pose consequences for the whistleblower. Some of the consequences include:
Once you become a whistleblower, one of the most negative things you might experience is retaliation. If, for example, you reported that the company you’re working for is discriminating against a marginalized group during the application process and you report it, the company might retaliate by demoting or firing you.
Hostility From Peers
If the organization you exposed for its wrongdoings does not retaliate directly, you may still face other negative effects like resentment from colleagues. This creates a hostile work environment that can push you to leave.
Apart from the abovementioned consequences, the burden of proof lies on you. And given the retaliation you might have received, gathering evidence might be difficult. All of these make being a whistleblower stressful.
Turn to Whistleblower Experts for Advice
Coming forward as a whistleblower is a daunting task, one fraught with plenty of challenges. From whistleblower retaliation to mental and emotional tolls, these consequences can make it scary to come forward.
By working with highly-experienced whistleblower lawyers, you can get the legal advice you need. Whether your case is protected disclosure or you can get compensated but not protected from whistleblower retaliation, a knowledgeable lawyer can help.
If you want to learn more about your rights and protection as a whistleblower, Whistleblower Info Center offers free legal consultation. Contact us today.
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