Whistleblower

A whistleblower is an employee or former employee of an organization who reports misconduct to people or entities that have the power to take corrective action. Generally the misconduct is a violation of law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest -- fraud, health, safety violations, and corruption are just a few examples. For instance, Jeffrey Wigand is a well-known whistleblower in the United States for his role in the Big Tobacco scandal, revealing that executives of the companies knew that cigarettes were addictive and that they added other carcinogenic ingredients to the cigarettes. Whistleblowers are most often employees of businesses, but are also commonly employees of government agencies.

Contrary to popular belief, not only the most severe cases of corporate or governmental misconduct that results in substantial public harm precipitate a whistleblowing. While these instances are the most newsworthy and the type most portrayed in popular culture, any kind of misconduct may initiate the whistleblowing process and the vast majority of cases are based on relatively minor misconduct. The most common type of whistleblowers are internal whistleblowers, who are whistleblowers that report misconduct to another employee or superior within the company or agency of their work. Contrasting this, external whistleblowers report misconduct to outside persons or entities. In these cases, depending on the severity and nature of the wrong-doing, whistleblowers will usually report the misconduct to lawyers, the media, law enforcement or watchdog agencies, or to other local, state, or federal agencies. If the disclosure is specifically prohibited by law or is specifically required by executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense the reporting by a whistleblower might constitute treason.

Role-prescribed whistleblowing, for example whistleblowing done by quality control personnel or internal auditors, does not necessarily constitute whistleblowing in the traditional sense, chiefly because their reporting of misconduct is mandated.

Contents

Reactions to whistleblowing

Perceptions of whistleblowing vary widely. Some perceive whistleblowers as selfless martyrs for public interest and organizational accountability. while others view them as "snitches", solely pursuing personal glory and fame. Because the majority of cases are very low-profile and receive little or no media attention and because whistleblowers who do report significant misconduct are usually put in some form of danger or persecution, the latter view is generally less held.

Persecution of whistleblowers has become a serious issue in many parts of the world. Although whistleblowers are often protected under law from employer retaliation, there have been many cases where punishment for whistleblowing has occurred. As a reaction to this many private organizations have formed whistleblower legal defense funds or support groups to assist whistleblowers; one such example in the UK is Public Concern at Work. Depending on the circumstances, it is not uncommon for whistleblowers to be ostracized by their co-workers, discriminated against by future potential employers, or even fired from their organization.

Whistleblower law

Legal protection for whistleblowing varies from country to country. In the UK, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1988 provides a framework of legal protection for individuals who disclose information so as to expose malpractice and matters of similar concern. In the vernacular, it protects whistleblowers from victimisation and dismissal.

In the United States, legal protections vary according to the subject matter of the whistleblowing, and sometimes the state in which the case arises. In passing the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Senate Judiciary Committee found that whistleblower protections were dependent on the "patchwork and vagaries" of varying state statutes. (Congressional Record p. S7412; S. Rep. No. 107-146, 107th Cong., 2d Session 19 (2002).) Still, a wide variety of federal and state laws protect employees who call attention to violations, help with enforcement proceedings, or refuse to obey unlawful directions.

The patchwork of laws means that victims of retaliation need to be alert to the laws at issue to determine the deadlines and means for making proper complaints. Some deadlines are as short as ten (10) days (for Arizona State Employees to file a "Prohibited Personnel Practice" Complaint before the Arizona State Personnel Board); thirty (30) days (for environmental whistleblowers to make a written complaint to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration [OSHA]). Federal employees complaining of discrimination, retaliation or other violations of the civil rights laws have 45 days to make a written complaint to their agency's equal employment opportunity (EEO) officer. Airline workers and corporate fraud whistleblowers have 90 days to make their complaint to OSHA. Nuclear whistleblowers and truck drivers have 180 days to make complaints to OSHA. Retaliation for union organizing and other concerted activities to improve working conditions have 180 days to make complaints to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Private sector employees have either 180 or 300 days to make complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), depending on whether their state has a "deferral" agency. Those who face retaliation for seeking minimum wages or overtime has either two or three years to file a civil lawsuit, depending on whether the court finds the violation was "willful."

Federal employees benefit from the Whistleblower Protection Act (5 U.S.C. 1221(e)), and the No Fear Act (which made individual agencies directly responsible for the economic sanctions of unlawful retaliation). The Military Whistleblower Protection Act (10 U.S.C. 1034), protects the right of members of the armed services to communicate with any member of Congress (even if copies of the communication are sent to others).

For more information about how whistleblowers can file an initial complaint, see External links

Famous whistleblowers

  • W. Mark Felt, (aka Deep Throat) - Until very recently, a secret informant who in 1972 leaked information about United States President Richard Nixon's involvement in Watergate. The scandal would eventually lead to the resignation of the president, and prison terms for White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and presidential adviser John Ehrlichman.

See also

Resources

External links

de:Whistleblower

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