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Volume 7 | Issue 6

Putting it in context

A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC

The Many Faces of “Whistle Blowing”

The Many Faces of “Whistle Blowing”

Seemingly gone in these days of post Covid-19 business recovery are the days of tight, cohesive business organizations centered around Corporate Headquarters, Regional and Local Branch offices and Company operational hubs.  Gone as well is the traditional framework for and implementation of “Whistle Blowing” which was, in most cases, fairly well established and ensconced in a company’s policies and operating practices.  

In our post pandemic world of work from home and physical distancing, the whole concept of workplace based “Whistle Blowing” takes on an entirely new perspective, and a more textured meaning from both the employer and the employee point of view.

The traditional format of an office based, 9 to 5 organizational work regimen, with group coffee and lunch breaks and work related group business meetings, often made it easier for one staff member to observe what they perceived as wrong, unwanted or inappropriate behavior or activity.  

He or she could then report this, via established channels, to appropriate level of supervision, or to authorities.  In the new “at home” and “socially distanced” work regimen, how have whistleblower rules changed and how can they be applied in this new environment?

Lest we get ahead of ourselves, let’s first look at the accepted definitions of both a whistleblower and whistle blowing:

whistleblower (also written as whistle-blower or whistle blower) is: 

  1. A person who exposes secretive information or activity within a private or public organization that is deemed illegal, unethical, or incorrect.
  2. A person who informs on a person or organization engaged in an illicit activity.

So even from the start, there are disparities in the definition of activities qualifying under this category.  In fact, to make the situation even more complex, here are some additional refinements to the definitions of the practice:

  1. Private sector whistleblowing – when an employee divulges to someone in a higher position such as a manager, or a third party that is isolated from the situation in question. 
  1. The information of alleged wrongdoing can be classified as a violation of: 
    • Company Policy/Rules
    • Laws or Regulations
    • Threats to Public Interest/National Security
    • Fraud
    • Corruption  

Those who become whistleblowers can choose to bring information or allegations to light either internally or externally. 

  • Internally – An informer can bring his/her accusations to the attention of other people within the organization such as an immediate supervisor, the HR Department, Union Leadership or Company Ombudsman  
  • Externally – An informer can bring allegations to light by contacting a third party outside the organization in question, such as the media, government, law enforcement, or those who are concerned
  • Whistleblowers, unfortunately, take the risk of facing stiff reprisal and/or retaliation from those who are accused or alleged of wrongdoing.

The above approach focuses more on the person to person, one on one types of offenses and improprieties.  Another broader, community wide approach has this practice defined as:

  • The disclosure by members of an organization (including former members and job applicants) 
  • Of illegal, immoral, or illegitimate practices by the employer
  • To persons or organizations who may be able to effect action

In some circles, even this broad-brush definition is considered too narrow and restrictive since access to relevant information can also be observed by organizational outsiders such as: 

  • Customers
  • Vendors
  • Consultants
  • External auditors
  • Competitors. 

This latter approach puts whistleblowing by a whistleblower individual or group on an entirely different level. 

For instance, customers or watchdog groups who observe instances of, for example, product fraud can report their findings to governmental entities such as consumer protection and other agencies through established, codified online channels. These agencies tend to take decisive action against wrongdoing, such as removing the products in question from the marketplace and prosecuting the perpetrators.

In somewhat of a twist, whistleblowing is sometimes regarded as a prosocial behavior; that is, a behavior intended to benefit others by uncovering wrongdoing in an organization or even an entire industry.  It is also viewed as a prosocial behavior when the potential whistleblowers observe wrongdoing, which in turn motivates them to undertake three phases of action:

  • Observe a questionable practice or activity and recognize it as potentially wrongful
  • React to the wrongdoing by considering it incorrect 
  • Take a course of action where their whistleblowing is an available option 

This behavior can be more than altruistic. While informers may feel morally compelled to act, they may simultaneously hold the view that the disclosure results in some personal gain for themselves.

Deeper questions and theories of whistleblowing and why people choose to do so can be studied from an ethics perspective. The practice is a topic of ongoing ethical debate. 

  • Leading arguments in the ideological camp that whistleblowing is ethical maintain that it is a form of civil disobedience, and aims to protect the public from business or government wrongdoing 
  • In the opposite camp, some see whistleblowing as unethical for breaching confidentiality, especially in industries that handle sensitive client or patient information.

Just when you thought you knew both the definition and extent of whistle blowing by whistle blowers, you get exposed to the multiple layers of this personal, social and legal onion. A single action – Whistleblowing – by a single entity – A Whistleblower – looked at from both the interpersonal and business points of reference and then further parsed on the public and private level from both the internal and external point of origin.  

With this underpinning, we can next look at how you as an individual, you as a manager and you as a business entity can best prepare yourself to face these new workplace issues.

 

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jerry@cdci-mediation.com