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Corporate Whistleblowers: What Protection Is Available?

Corporate Whistleblowers: What Protection Is Available?

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, Online Career Tips

Whistleblowing cases involving the presidency, the intelligence community and Congress are front-page news these days.

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By law, federal whistleblowers must follow prescribed steps to make claims against fellow government officials. In turn, whistleblowers have certain legal protections. The accused cannot publicly identify them or take punitive steps, such as dismissal or demotion, against them.

Granted, these protections do not always work. But they are an inducement for those who witness illegal or unethical acts to come forward and report them.

But what happens in private industry? Do corporate whistleblowers have similar protections? The answer is yes – in most cases.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says: “Consistent with federal laws, acts of retaliation against an employee who engages in protected activity, whistleblowing, or the exercise of any appeal or grievance right provided by law will not be tolerated in our workplace.”

Always keep in mind, however, that when “an employee blows the whistle on perceived employer or co-worker illegal or unethical behavior, workplaces may become strained, and collaborative relationships may be tested,” XpertHR points out.

Most Women Whistleblowers Won’t Report Incidents of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Despite recent highly publicized cases, sexual harassment has always been a touchy topic in the workplace. About 70 percent of women won’t report incidents of workplace sexual harassment because they fear professional retaliation or termination.

In fact, maintaining high ethical standards within an organization often leads to a competitive advantage and enhances a company’s reputation with the public.

How Whistleblowers Can Report Workplace Problems

What happens if you witness what you believe is an illegal or unethical act by a co-worker?

Identify the behavior and “determine how it is affecting you or the organization in which you work,” Bizfluent.com’s Alexander Abbott advises. “Decide whether the problem in question is worth reporting and if it will put your job or someone else’s job in jeopardy.”

Then check your copy of the company’s Employee Handbook. Most likely it will provide a step-by-step guide on how to file a whistleblower report that will be kept completely confidential and without risk of retribution.

The Employee Handbook may also tell you to whom you should submit your report. Follow the written instructions and the hierarchy of command.

For example, “If your boss is committing the behavior in question, identify your boss’s supervisor or an external legal figure who has the power to influence the situation,” Abbott says.

It is not advisable to go right to the CEO or company president. Most top executives prefer that you go up the chain of command rather than run to the boss “to tattle” on a colleague.

Be Sure to Explain Why You Believe the Behavior Is Unethical and Warrants Whistleblowing

Your report should explain the unethical or illegal behavior in detail. “Explain why you believe it is unethical and why it warrants whistleblowing, as well as how the issue could be resolved,” Abbott adds.

Be sure to keep copies of your report and all other pertinent documents. Adam Herzog, an attorney with Katz Marshall & Banks LLP, a leading national whistleblower and employment law firm, advises whistleblowers not to quit their job if the complaint is ignored or negatively affects you instead of the employee in question. Quitting makes it harder for you to prevail in any future retaliation case against your employer. “To win any retaliation case, you must prove that your employer took an ‘adverse action’ against you, which is often something along the lines of termination, demotion or failure to promote,” Herzog says. “Courts will recognize forced resignation as an actionable adverse action under the theory of ‘constructive discharge,’ but such cases impose a high burden for whistleblowers.

Essentially, you must prove that conditions were so intolerable that you had no other choice but to quit. If you suspect your whistleblowing might cause you to lose your job, start looking for a new position as soon as you can.

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