Deciding When to Blow the Whistle and When to Walk Away

from NYTs

Whistle-blowers have been big news lately — from Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Pfc. Bradley Manning, to Edward J. Snowden. Yet, for most people, the question of whether to expose unethical or illegal activities at work doesn’t make headlines or involve state secrets.

But that doesn’t make the problem less of a quandary. The question of when to remain quiet and when to speak out — and how to do it — can be extraordinarily difficult no matter what the situation.

And while many think of ethics violations as confined to obviously illegal acts, like financial fraud or safety violations, the line often can be much blurrier and, therefore, more difficult to navigate.

According to the Ethics Resource Center, a nonprofit research organization, the No. 1 misconduct observed — by a third of 4,800 respondents — was misuse of company time. That was closely followed by abusive behavior and lying to employees.

The findings were published in the organization’s 2011 National Business Ethics Survey, which interviewed, on the phone or online, employees in the commercial sector who were employed at least 20 hours a week.

More here.


11 Responses to Deciding When to Blow the Whistle and When to Walk Away

  1. Dylan Walko April 30, 2015 at 9:38 pm #

    The ethics of the workforce have always been both a spoken and unspoken knowledge that all employees have, whether they admit it or not. Whistle blowing today is something that is a continuous struggle that some employees have especially when they are in a company that financially satisfies their needs. But whether these employees are happy or not they can easily see when something illegal is occurring from within. It comes down to whether they want to go about the legal proceedings that will come from this. It is basically an offspring of the recurring issue of worker abuse, whether it be sexual harassment, threats, or anything personal that occurs to the worker.
    It can work both ways though, this whistleblowing can be done in spite of the company or even coworkers who someone may not like and lawyers have been on high alert for this kind of activity. A simple indication of this kind of activity is when a worker goes directly to an external source to site some sort of illegality, and does not start from an internal office such as HR. In this world there is corruption from these corporations but it also stems well beyond the realm of the masses and can be manipulated by a single person.

  2. Nicholas B. October 17, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    Whistleblowers are supposed to be protected under the First Amendment to help report dishonest behaviors at work. To see the number of reports issued to be a small percentage doesn’t surprise me. With jobs being hard to find very few people would take the risk of losing that position to stop someone from wrong doing. To see that the people who are whistleblowers getting punished for that is just wrong. And that 1/3 of those being punished receives threats to themselves or property should not be accepted. This is hurting the nature of whistleblowing because the whole idea is that they are safe from any mistreatment. I myself would not be a whistleblower because of all the trouble that it could bring to me for trying to help. It would take a major problem for me to consider speaking up and I know I am not alone because 30% of people who saw someone stealing from the company didn’t report it. Until the safety of whistleblowers becomes greater I see a continuous downward trend of people who report seeing thing that are wrong.

  3. Carlota Clotet Alsina October 17, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

    In my opinion, it is unlikely for an employee to say something that will risk their job. People work very hard to first earn, then keep, and finally try to raise their positions on their jobs. But according to this article, there seems to be more people willing to report this type of action than they did in previous years. Even though it can sometimes be risky, I believe that employers need to educate their employees and increase awareness in the area of ethic violations. People willing to report misconduct is a positive thing if it gets done the right way. These reports can help improve a positive and honest environment at a workplace. If people did not report the little things, these minor offenses could end up affecting major cases later on. Like Michael Solimini mentioned in a previous post “Unethical behavior is happening every day in corporations, and without a whistle-blower it would go unnoticed and continue to happen until it grows out of hand”

    In the case of Lester, the behind the scenes actions of his supervisor eventually forced him to resign. This is an example why we also need to use discretion when we report something, it is very important. Like Tugend mentioned in this article, we have to make sure we know why we are reporting misconduct, and which can be the consequences “Why am I doing this? Am I trying to help the company or just get someone in trouble?” Because even though it is the right, ethical, but not necessarily legal thing to do, we should not put ourselves in a position where we could lose everything we have worked for. It is very hard and sometimes worthless to give up all you have earned just to get a simple good reward for doing the right thing. In my opinion, you always have to try and do the right thing but also watch out for yourself because no one will do it for you. My dad always used to say “People want to see you do good, but never better than them” and I think everyone could really relate this advice when it comes to this situation.

  4. Chris Gattuso October 17, 2015 at 11:16 pm #

    The past few years whistle blowing has become more of a topic people are talking about. Every company has some sort of ethics or whistle blowing hot line. In the wake of high profile cases whistle blowing is becoming more prevalent. Although it’s important to have the systems in place to allow whistle blowing I believe people should be careful when they go to blow the whistle. After SOX and Dodd-frank there are legal protections and rewards for whistle blowers but it’s important to remember the dangers of whistle blowing. For example Snowden blew the whistle on the government and now is by many called a traitor. With the elections coming up next year almost all the candidates have said they believe that legal action should be taken against him. In the article the case with Lester is a prime example of how after blowing the whistle he was given the most difficult projects at work with many of his resources taken away eventually making it so he had to quit. I think that real world examples like that are horrible that people who try and do the right thing get punished

    Although I think it’s great that people are breaking this stigma against whistle blowing and doing it more. I think it’s important that people understand when to whistle blow and when to go through other channels such as a HR department. The two questions in the article I think are crucial in determining the difference. “Why am I doing this?” Am I trying to help the company or just get someone in trouble?” If it’s to help the company you might consider whistle blowing if it’s to get someone in trouble it might be better just to go on with your day or go to a HR department to solve the issue.

  5. Karen E. November 15, 2015 at 5:51 pm #

    Whistleblowing protection towards individuals in an organization is essential and must be fully enforced. Acts that are both illegal and unethical should and must be reported in order to create a “safe” working environment for everyone. Therefore, I disagree with Stephen Kohn’s statement in which he states that true whistle-blowing is when people report seeing something that is against the law. Yes, reporting an illegal issue should be encouraged and protected in order for people to feel safe about coming forth with the truth. For example, if it wasn’t for Cynthia Cooper, Vice President of Internal Audit at WorldCom, WorldCom would have continued with its fraudulent activities causing more investors to lose millions of dollars. However, companies must also enforce strict whistleblowing protection for those who report unethical yet not illegal activities as well. Mr. Lester explains that after he reported the unethical behavior of his manager, he started to experienced retaliation acts that made his workdays intolerable which pushed him to end up quitting his job. Top management did wrong by not partaking in actions against that manager. Although, no rule was broken because lying is not illegal, it is still unethical. By not taking action against the manager, the company indirectly sent a message that shows that lying is okay and it will be tolerated in the company. Encouraging this kind of behavior will create a negative work environment and will help more problems to flourish down the line. Top management should enforce whistleblowing for unethical behavior as strictly as they enforce it for illegal activities. According to Santa Clara University, there are 5 essential steps to creating a whistleblowing culture and these are:
    1.-Create a Policy about reporting illegal or unethical practices that include hotlines and mailboxes with clear communications about the process of voicing concerns and about bans on retaliation. There should also be a clear connection between an organization’s code of ethics and performance measures.
    2.- Top management should demonstrate a strong commitment to encouraging whistleblowing.
    3.-Publicize the Organization’s Commitment. This means that top management should make every effort to talk about the commitment to ethical behavior in memos, newsletters, and speeches to company personnel.
    4.-Investigate and Follow Up. Managers should be required to investigate all allegations promptly and thoroughly, and report the origins and the results of the investigation to a higher authority.
    5.-Assess the Organization’s Internal Whistleblowing System. Top management should find out employees’ opinions about the organization’s culture regarding its commitment to ethics and values.


  6. Abbie Moore November 15, 2015 at 6:07 pm #

    Whistle blower programs are put into place to protect a company and its employees. Unfortunately, over time the term whistle blower has cultivated such a negative connotation, that no one takes advantage of these programs. People also fail to see these programs for what they are: a way to defend themselves. Tattle-tailing is seen as such a negative concept, but what it really does is upon people up to the possibility that someone could hurt them. Whistle blowers need to become more common in order to ensure ethical business practices.
    If management creates a culture that accepts whistle blowing, employees would become more open to utilizing the system. The tone implemented by management will lead to the success of the company and the improved condition for employees. They will feel safer in their work environment and will be inspired to work harder. Encouraging whistle blowing will only benefit a company.

  7. Janelle George October 10, 2016 at 9:51 pm #

    I have always understood whistle blowing as being the act of reporting illegal behavior within a company, as Stephen Kohn says. However, I am not surprised by the confusion between unethical and illegal, since there are laws that place restrictions on what are or close to unethical behaviors within large companies. However, we live in a very “politically correct” society now. Most people if not everyone is fired up and looking for something to throw fault towards. There is a lot of careless blaming made now, surprisingly more than there is in the presence of alcohol. As a result of all these strong opinions comes hypocrisy within an individual, and we may end up making decisions or making claims that go against our true beliefs. “While it’s important to expose unethical behavior, it’s also necessary to be very clear why you’re doing it.”

    In Lester’s case, we do not know why his manager lied about the promotion. It isn’t ethical to lie, but is it illegal? It would seem so but it is mostly just “frowned upon” and causes for in depth research if not otherwise obvious. It seems like lying, in most cases, results in what happened to Lester after he reported what his manager lied about. Whistle blowing is a good thing, and I wouldn’t be afraid to “investigate” a less than obvious crime on an employee or employer if it meant the safety or fellow employees or the company itself. If you enjoy your job, why not do everything to you can to be able to brag about it. I would stop if your position makes it difficult to take a stand, and like in Lester’s case leave, so you can just tell your story about your company discreetly and hopefully save others possible trouble.

  8. Jeet Desai October 28, 2017 at 3:39 pm #

    The greater part of the organizations and people begin worried about whistleblowing after the case of World Com, and Enron case, which give a major effect on the general population and accounting principle, where Sarbanes-Oxley Act was distributed after the instance of World Com and Enron. As a definition, whistleblowing is the revelation of hierarchal part’s disclosure of unlawful, ill-conceived hones under the control of their managers to people or association that might have the capacity to make a move. The term of ‘Whistleblowing’ has a wide range of features. It can be an act of free speech, a tool for anti-corruption, and an inside administration debate component.
    The individual who blows the whistle has some legitimate assurance if making an “ensured exposure”, which, in the sensible belief of an employee or worker, is made in people for their interest and for future betterment. There are many reasons to blow the whistle and corporation should be open-minded to hear about the internal dispute which can make any organization to take an action towards and can have the more safer environment. the link( talks about Four major reasons if one does not blow a whistle: (1) They don’t learn their lesson, (2) It will reinforce the bad behavior, (3) An individual or an organization reputation will be on a line, (4) Could cause many people negative consequences. Well but at some point, I agree with this article that one should take a suggestion before taking any irrelevant action. it might cause opposite instead of doing something good for others. In some cases, we do have to think practically instead of ethical. Some might end up losing their job due to blowing a whistle.
    A whistleblower incident is probably the emotionally difficult thing to handle in any professional life. In the event that you end up in a conceivable whistleblowing incident, you should exhaust every single internal option for tending to the issues and gather all documentation conceivable.

  9. Rubi Leyva-Rodriguez October 29, 2017 at 9:38 pm #

    Whistleblowing has become more talked about in the recent years as companies are trying to incorporate more ethical values in their corporate culture. Having a safe and pleasant environment at work is essential to a more productive work environment. There is an unknown quote “A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.”. We can argue that the opposite is also true and that individuals that feel unappreciated often do not work to their potential. The main goal of companies is often to improve employee satisfaction so that employees are more engaged at work and can, therefore, work to their potential.
    When defining what true whistle-blowing is, Stephen Kohn stated that is when people report seeing something that is against the law. I can disagree with this definition as we also saw that offensive behavior is the number one reason that people are leaving their jobs, as no one wants to be working in a toxic environment. I would argue that even though these situations are not breaking a law, they are still unethical.

    However, there is also a thin line between what is unethical and what one’s perspective of unfair might be. When talking about promotions, it is a tricky thing to say that your manager is being unethical by not giving you a promotion if they truly believe that another candidate is a better fit for the position. Although it might not be fair to you, I don’t think this is unethical. This might be unnecessary from the employer’s point of view and might just be a “tattletale”. I feel as though the companies should be spending more time deciding what they believe is unethical and spend more time informing their employees so that people stop leaving work because of a bad manager. I think this would help the companies by retaining good employees that are just stuck working in a hostile environment

  10. Konnor Vanemon November 8, 2017 at 9:28 pm #

    Throughout life, we constantly struggle with choosing whether to do what we want or choosing to do what is right, especially when we have a hard time deciphering wrong from right. These decisions become more complicated when they develop from issues within the work place and have a larger impact on the workers, the office’s environment, and the company in general rather than two individuals or a small group of people in an informal setting. In today’s work environment, handling unethical or illegal situations has become more difficult to address and to handle for multiple reasons. Employees may not know how to identify a situation as unethical or illegal because they’ve never witnessed something like that before, they may have different morals and values than their coworkers and company so what they consider to be unethical or illegal may not actually be so, they may not feel comfortable addressing it because they have superiors or coworkers holding their employment with the company or future growth opportunities over their heads, or people may not know who to go to if they do witness or experience unethical or illegal activity taking place. If people are experiencing such activities, the company may force them to keep it under wraps in order to avoid lawsuits or being shut down. Dealing with unethical situations is never easy, but it’s important that these situations are addressed because they can lead to a toxic work environment and thus effect the company’s productivity.
    A family friend of mine used to work at a small, privately-owned graphic design company for several years after selling her own graphic design company. While she liked the work that she was doing, she dreaded going to work because her boss was a nightmare and made the work days feel like an eternity. He constantly yelled at her, refused to pay her for the paid-vacation time that was promised to her and stated in her contract, and he would overload her with work instead of dispersing it amongst the other members of the design team. She did what she could to deal with the harassment, but because the company was so small and didn’t have a Human Resources Department, she felt helpless because she had no one to report him to even if she was brave enough to. She finally had enough and found another job with a different company and she’s never been happier. She’s constantly sharing stories about the fun activities that she does with her team within the company and how welcoming everyone was when she first started working there. While she wanted to report her boss and his behavior towards her at work, she chose to keep it to herself and start fresh with a new job; other people aren’t as lucky to have an easy way out of these difficult situations. When my mom first started working full time, the company that she worked for was in the middle of a lawsuit for gender discrimination. While she had not witnessed or experienced anything in that nature first-hand, she was still asked to be questioned by the investigative team, but she chose not to say anything or express knowing about it because she was afraid that her current position or future promotion opportunities would be jeopardized because she spoke against the person being accused. In a situation like this, many people would be hesitant to speak out for the same reasons that my mother was afraid to speak out; we become paranoid thinking that the person will find out that we spoke out against them and now they’re going to make our lives miserable.
    It is crucial for companies, specifically the Human Resource Department within the companies, to be aware of what is going on within the departments and employees of the company because if there is a problem between people, it creates a negative work environment and business is soon affected because of it. I believe that the work environment of a company is an extremely important contributing factor to the success of employees and the overall success of the company because if employees aren’t happy or feel uncomfortable at work, it is likely that they won’t get much work done.

  11. Andre Bakhos November 9, 2017 at 11:13 pm #

    Snitches, tattletales, rats, squealers, informers, moles, leakers, and whistleblowers. No matter what you call them, they are all generally the same thing. Whether it was your sibling, annoying friend, or even a co-worker, everyone has encountered a whistleblower. Recently, there has been a surplus of stories emerging of whistleblowers, and no, not your sibling who tattles on you to get you in trouble. These are high profile, corruption exposing, secret declassifying informants, who work to uncover the major secrets of organizations and people. Some of these such as Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, are responsible for ultra-high profile leaking, of which helped keep companies and the United States government on their toes.
    Oftentimes, whistleblowers help expose corruption, which saves many people from being hurt in the end, but at what point is whistleblowing unethical, or even dangerous. In my opinion, if a secret is not hurting anyone, or being investigated due to suspicion, then it should be left alone, to spare society extra drama. Take the case of Bradley Manning, for example. He was a former intelligence analyst in the United States Military Service, and was responsible for leaking over 750,000 classified government documents to the well known group, WikiLeaks, who is responsible for releasing secrets provided to them from anonymous sources. These documents helped expose reported unethical behavior by United States troops in the middle east, but also disclosed the names, addresses, and other personal information of many current or former military personnel. Bradley Manning was court marshalled and tried under the espionage act, and was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison, but later had his sentence commuted by President Barrack Obama, under much scrutiny from critics. In my opinion, Manning went too far, as he put many military members and their families in danger of being targeted by enemies of the state. Yes, he exposed some unethical activities that the United States was guilty of, but it was probably better left alone. Exposing those documents most likely will not stop the military from doing as it wishes, but it did put military personnel in danger of being harmed or killed.
    On a less serious note, whistleblowing in a small office setting, is not that dangerous and is much less harmful than something on a nationwide or large-corporate scale. For example, if a very popular bakery that claimed to make cookies from scratch in the back of the store was caught using pre-made dough, it would not be that big of a deal, as people would probably continue to buy from them, as the product is good. This is a made up example of a disgruntled worker, who decided to attempt to ruin a business, whether for revenge or personal gain. While it would not destroy the business, it would surely create a hostile environment in the bakery, and result in the worker being fired.
    So, in conclusion, I believe that the scale of the whistleblowing really effects how it should be viewed. In the Bradley Manning example, he put thousands in danger, and did not really change much in terms of conduct, as far as the public knows. This leaking was unethical to do, and damaged the security of the United States, her citizens, and those who serve her. In the made up bakery example, the leaker did not endanger anyone’s life, nor did they truly effect the business, as the cookies were still good, and people continued to buy them. It is ok to leak instances of racism, discrimination, and other unethical factors, as it will only hurt the offender, and not those who were affected.

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