Whistle-blowing is the act of informing higher authorities about illegal or unethical practices observed. In large corporations, employees may report unethical practices to protect both themselves and the company. Deciding to report fellow workers or corporate officers is never an easy decision, since whistle-blowing brings both advantages and disadvantages.
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Whistle-blowing often ends long-standing wrongdoing that would have otherwise continued. In the Enron case of October 2001, the chief executives were shown to have systematically deceived all company stakeholders with the help of accounting firm Arthur Andersen, which did not provide legitimate financial reporting. One of the Enron accountants confronted the CEO in a memo about what he had discovered and the rest became history. Employees and shareholders lost billions when Enron folded, yet the whistle-blowing prevented even further harm. Many Enron executives went to prison, and have been held personally accountable, making restitution for monies stolen.
In the case of medical malpractice suits, the whistle-blower is upholding the patient's best interests, not the hospital's or doctor's. In the case of clear workplace violations of health and safety regulations, or breach of employment laws, workers are protected and their rights upheld. With regard to research or technical issues, whistle-blowers may cite internal memos and other documentation to prove doubts existed about a product (such as a cover-up of certain medication dangers) or that false research results were knowingly published. Whistle-blowers often highlight safety concerns regarding cars or other products, thus protecting an unsuspecting public. Whistle-blowing upholds the law, protects many from the impact of wrongdoing, reveals the truth and prevents further wrongdoing.
Whistle-blowing can bring many negative repercussions. First, it can bring termination. It is difficult to remain, no matter how justifiable the decision to reveal illegalities and no matter how much the revelations actually benefit others. Second, big-time revelations could bring down the company à la Enron, causing everyone to lose their jobs. Third, the whistle-blower can get stigmatised as "disloyal" and be discredited in some way. Fourth, sometimes colleagues may exact some form of revenge or somehow "scapegoat" the person. Thus, the whistle-blower is somehow blamed for the wrongdoing and fired without an opportunity for vindication. In small communities, the whistle-blower and family may be subject to hostile treatment, viewed as acting out of self-interest, perhaps to gain advancement at others' expense.
Whether to blow the whistle on colleagues or senior management is a highly personal decision. However, when the whistle-blower is certain of illegal activity, or that real harm exists to the public or to fellow workers, that should tip the scales in favour of whistle-blowing, regardless of the personal cost.
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