Whistleblowing in the Workplace: Should You Do It?

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There’s a difference between making a complaint and blowing the whistle. Generally, people complain in the workplace because the incident relates to them personally. For example, your manager doesn’t treat you fairly, you experience harassment, and your colleague tries to sabotage your project.

Meanwhile, blowing the whistle, aka whistleblowing, is disclosing information that may not affect the complainant. It could be a dangerous or illegal activity within the company, with the CEO or your colleague as the perpetrator.

When should you blow the whistle?

Before we go deeper into the topic, let’s make it clear. The incident must not be a trivial matter. It has to be something serious, such as:

  • criminal activity
  • injustice
  • dangerous for health and safety
  • bribery
  • financial fraud
  • damaging the environment, etc

A famous and recent case of whistleblowing is by Frances Haugen, a former product manager of Facebook. She has disclosed that the company’s systems amplify online hate and extremism. On top of that, the company also fails to protect young users from harmful content.

Two types of whistleblowing

There are two types of whistleblowing:

1. Organisational whistleblowing
The employees is talking to colleagues as whistleblowing in the workplace

Some companies urge their staff to do so to limit the danger of irregularities and preserve a healthy work atmosphere. Managers have a bigger chance of getting information on such incidents and acting upon them early.

For example, reporting a colleague who misuses the company’s credit card, steals, or cheats to get a bigger bonus. If your company is serious about whistleblowing, usually, HR will notify all employees about the policy, procedure, and system.

2. Public whistleblowing

In Mrs Haugen’s case, her act does fall into this category. Employees who blow the whistle publicly do so when the trust in the company is low. It also occurs when organisational whistleblowing doesn’t work.

You can do public whistleblowing by lodging a police report, media announcement, or social media. As it’s public disclosure, the reputation of the company you work at will be at significant risk.

What whistleblowers need to know

Have you ever been in a situation where you feel unsure about blowing the whistle? Organisational whistleblowing could make people nervous, but public whistleblowing is on another level. If you feel uncertain, I’ve listed some top tips that will be beneficial for whistleblowers:

1. Learn the whistleblower protection act in your country

Lady reading law or drafting a legislation or document for whistleblowers protection act

Each country has laws that protect whistleblowers from any prejudicial effect. For example, in Malaysia, there is the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010;

As quoted on the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission website, this Act encourages people to disclose information about any corruption and wrongdoings.

It is stated in the Act that the whistleblower’s information is legally protected. They will also be immune from criminal and civil action plus receive protection against detrimental action.

2. Seek legal advice

If browsing for whistleblower protection is too much for you, why not seek legal advice? Refrain from disclosing any information before consulting with a lawyer with experience in whistleblower rights. Another way is to contact a whistleblower organisation so they can guide you through the process and provide moral support.

3. Anonymous or go public?

The safest way to do it would be by being anonymous, especially if you decide to disclose the information to the public. With this, you get to keep your job as your boss has no idea who the whistleblower is.

Also, there is minimal risk of straining your work relationship with other employees. For example, the company suffers a substantial financial loss caused by your action. Thus, all employees receive no bonus for two years.

Imagine if you don’t go anonymous, you’ll be a ‘public enemy No. 1’ in the workplace! However, even if you choose to disclose the information anonymously, there’ll always be a chance it’ll become public. Be prepared for it.

4. Learn the law carefully

Whistleblowing in the workplace is protected by the law

Just because you’re doing what’s right doesn’t mean that you’ll win the case. In some cases, when whistleblowers illegally disclose their company’s confidential information, they’re convicted. Again, if you’re unsure, seek legal advice before making any moves.

5. Secure the evidence

When things go wrong, the company or perpetrators might quickly clean up the evidence. Thus, gather supporting evidence before it’s gone (or before your access to certain documents gets blocked). Remember to do it carefully. The last thing you’d want is your boss catching you or any suspicions.

When gathering evidence, you don’t have to take the actual or physical evidence. The company can use this against you, for example, suing you for theft. Just use your mobile phone to snap some photos of the evidence.

The pros and cons of whistleblowing in the workplace

While most companies encourage organisational whistleblowing, they would frown upon public whistleblowing. It damages the company’s reputation and incurs other losses (clients lose faith in the company, the company is ‘cancelled’, penalties for paying, etc.).

Some of the pros of whistleblowing in the workplace are:

You’re doing the right thing

Know that you have made the right decision. Exposing illegal activity that negatively affects others is the right thing to do. You stood up for others who couldn’t have done it without you. Sometimes, insider information is the best way to make the perpetrators pay for their actions

Protected from company’s retaliation

Your boss will be fuming! However, you don’t have to worry. Usually, whistleblowers have the protection of the law from their company’s retaliation.

You may be rewarded

Depending on your case, you could get awarded by the government. If you expose a fraud case, the government may try to recover their lost funds. They may even give you some percentage of it as a reward.

There are also some cons of whistleblowing in the workplace, such as:

It could ruin your career

Your company can’t legally seek revenge. But if you love your job and decide to blow the whistle, you better secure a new job beforehand. Not all companies regard whistleblowers as heroes. They may see you as a threat. You may find difficulties getting hired.

It could ruin your work relationship

The aftermath of your action may not only negatively impact the company but also your colleagues. The reasons may vary: For example, some of them may have bought some shares in the company, but after the public whistleblowing, the shares could drop, they might get fired due to the financial blow, or the sales team could lose many high-value clients. Suddenly, you’ll have so many enemies even within the company.

All in all,

The decision to whistleblow is in your hands. Think about it carefully, especially if you decide to go for public whistleblowing and do your homework before taking action.

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