Whistleblowing occurs when someone exposes some form of misconduct within an organization, such as fraud, corruption, workplace health and safety violations, or kickbacks. This person is called a whistleblower; they may be employees of the organization, contract workers, suppliers, or customers. They may be told about illegal activity occurring within the company or they may witness it firsthand. Whistleblowers may choose to expose the organization internally, by notifying other people in the organization of the problem. They may also expose the organization externally by going to law officials, members of the media, or activist groups.

Consequences

Whistleblowers may face retaliation from the company or individual they are accusing. In addition, they may be a target for all those associated with the illegal activity, including other related businesses or groups. The question of whether whistleblowing is a legitimate practice and even potentially a moral responsibility fall under the category of business ethics. In the United States, whistleblowers are protected by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Reporting

According to the industry, different organizations may take part in different types of activities that are illegal in the workplace. OSHA deals directly with breaches of workplace safety or environmental regulations that companies are obligated to follow by law. The SEC, on the other hand, is interested in violations of securities law. Both of these organizations as well as a few other national organizations offer rewards for whistleblowers who come forward with information about a particular company or organization. They sometimes allow whistleblowers to submit information anonymously online, so that the whistleblower can’t be traced.

Whistleblowing Policies

In addition to government organizations that offer protection to whistleblowers, some companies have whistleblowing policies. These possibilities are meant to ensure the company or business remains both transparent and accountable for their actions. Individuals who observe wrongdoing on any level are given the right and responsibility to come forward without being harassed, victimized, or disciplined by the company. A whistleblowing policy offers protection to staff members and encourages them to behave in a respectful and honest manner. It is not a vehicle for staff to question business or financial decisions made by the company, but rather a way for staff to raise concerns about risks to the company.

Examples

There have been many notable examples of whistleblowers in the United States over the past years. In 2002, Sherron Watkins exposed a corporate financial scandal for Enron. In 2003, Courtland Kelley blew the whistle on General Motors for quality and assurance inspection, resulting in a $35 million dollar fine for the company. Neil Patrick Carrick was a staff member at Greater Grace World Outreach in Baltimore who exposed both financial and sexual abuse conducted by the church leaders in 2004.

Quick Summary

Whistleblowing involves exposing a company or organization for misconduct or otherwise illegal activities. Whistleblowers can be anyone associated with the company, including employees, customers, suppliers, or contract workers. People who blow the whistle on a company are protected by various United States government organizations. Some companies also have whistleblowing policies that encourage employees to come forward when they witness wrongdoing.