Critical Discussion on “Whistle-blowing” from an Ethical Perspective

1. Introduction:

Whistle-blowing is generally an act of telling people or authorities that the organization with whom you are working is illegal or immoral. The word explains the use of whistle which is to alert the crowd and public about the bad things happening around them. The phrase whistle-blowing has been attached to the officials of law enforcement in the 19th century. At that time whistles were used to alert people or police. This phrase is basically coined by U.S civic activist Ralph Nader in 1970s to avoid the negative connotations like a snitch and in former etc. etc. However, the whistleblower is a person who blows the whistle to report about the misconduct in the organization. It can be a past or current employee (Thomas, Mary, & Verdu, 2007).

The relation of employee and whistle-blowing is related to the concept of loyalty which is assumed to be an issue or more commonly it involves the moral choices in which an employee comes to pitted and stand against his responsibilities for the public interest. In order to protect whistle-blower from losing their jobs or to be mistreated, specific laws and policies have been made which clearly identifies the incident. Moreover, whistle-blowing, on the other hand, can be regarded as a bad habit which is sometimes used to irritate or disturb the people around. Whistles sometimes blown on the joyful occasions and pleased the environment. So they are used to blown for different reasons. Every state has their own laws, believes and ethics regarding this act (Mathieu, 2008). This paper will provide brief information regarding the policies of whistle-blowing adopted by different states. It will further explain the theoretical approaches which explain the morality of this act. Most importantly, it will critically analyze the concept which describes that whether this act of whistle-blowing is ethical or unethical with illustrated examples.

2. Types of Whistle-blowers:

Whistle-blowing can be considered as leaking and disclosing the government documents and practices. It is basically a report on misconduct by companies and individuals that take advantage from government or cause harm to public. The person who used to do such conduct and initiate litigation on behalf of the government is called relaters or whistle-blowers. Although some called them as “leaker” who leak government documents. When the word whistle has been pronounced, it pops up the name of Edward Joseph Snowden who was a former CIA employee. He leaked the restricted and classified information to the public from US National Security Agency in 2013. Whistleblowers are of different types and had different characteristics (John, 2012). Most important are of two types i.e. internal whistle-blowing and external whistle-blowing.

2.1 Internal Whistle-blowing:

In general terms, the internal whistle-blower is an individual who reports the suspected misconduct in his working place specifically the organization. It can include an audit department, a supervisor, a compliance officer or even an internal tip line or hotline. This misconduct can be related to environmental violations, harmful medical practices, false claim, financial wrongdoing, any kind of discrimination. Practically it can be anything that someone believes is illegal and wrong (Suzanna, 2017). The internal organization’s personnel will depict the problem responsibly or can stop or correct wrongdoings in the department. In majority cases, employee informs someone within the organization because they do not want to cause any bad publicity for the organization. Any action which has been taken by the company internally and without any settlements or penalties with outsiders is internal whistle-blowing. But in some cases, it might lead to a situation where an organization voluntarily reports the misconduct to any government institution in order to minimize any harm sanctions. For example, Henry report evidence to his supervisor that his co-worker is committing a fraud then follows the policies of alleged misconduct. Henry would be considered as an internal whistle-blower (Henkel, 2016).

2.2 External Whistle-blowing:

External whistle-blower is an individual who used to observe the misconduct by an individual or organization; it can generally be an employee, supplier, customer or any competitor who reports that misconduct to outsiders, specifically to a private attorney. He might report to prosecutor or any other government agency about the fraud by private companies. If the report results in any false claim, a private organization or entity has to recommend that whistle-blower file litigations. When an organization or a firm, discourage or punished internal reporting, the environment of the organization get worse until it is motivated by consciences and notify by the government authority. This is commonly called external whistle-blowing, which can create serious problems for the firm or organization (David & Heungsik, 2018). External whistle-blowing is considered as an effective due to mass-media which is its valuable tool strong evidence and powerful allies which are the crucial factors for making the process of whistle-blowing easier. It has been believed that external whistle-blowing is a crucial instrument which improves the transparency and accountability of a government. For example, an employee complaint his CEO about the illegal work done by another employee in the organization, after the complete investigation the employee finds guilty, CEO then announced that punishment must be given by the government authorities. This will improve their reputation and will gain the trust of their customers (Ricotta, 2018).

3. Policies and Acts for Whistle-blowing:

Whistle-blowing is considered as a cause of creating a disturbance within the firm or organization. As a result, an organization loses its control in its affairs due to constraints and external inquiries. They are regarded as victims of their retaliatory behavior which enacted the whistle-blower acts. However, these acts generally provide inadequate protection due to their retaliatory behavior. For such whistle-blowers, the laws, acts and policies have been approved. Certain whistle-blower programs have been designed and developed which offers personalized protection (Rouse, 2016).  Some of the most important Acts and policies are:

3.1 Whistle-blower Protection Act of 1989:

It is a federal law for whistle-blowers which protects government employees from the retaliation of whistle-blowing. This law sometimes known as WPA, it prohibits federal agencies to threaten or taking action against the employee who discloses the information which they believe is a violation of the law. According to the Act, this information should be disclosed including reports of management wrongdoing, an abuse of authority or any potential risk to public health or their safety. It has been seen that US officer of Special Counsel has the power to investigate federal whistle-blower retaliation and their complaints (Devine, 1999).

According to this act, a federal employee can only report the misconducts to their Office Special Counsel (OSC). These acts include:

  • Gross Mismanagement
  • Violation of Law
  • Waste of Funds
  • Abuse of Authority
  • Special Danger to Public Health

The law explains that OSC cannot investigate the claims itself; instead, they have to review the claim to determine the wrongdoings. It has been seen that WPA does not cover all the federal employees. For example, the OSC cannot handle claims of the employee who are the federal contractors or the members of intelligence agencies like FBI and CIA (John & Martin, 2012).

3.2 Whistle-blower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012:

This law was signed into the law in November 2012 which provides the enforcement and implementation of non-disclosure agreements by the department which shall be consistent with the existing framework for whistle-blower act of protection. This act ensures the information regarding the rights of whistle-blowers which is disseminated to the agency personnel. This WPEA has made it clear that the development programs for the protection of whistle-blowers should provide benefit to them from sharing the information across the community (Storch, 2017).  It is basically an addition in whistle-blower Protection Act of 1989 which includes:

  • This law has clarified the scope of protected disclosures
  • This has enhanced the remedies for workers who are subjected to retaliatory actions
  • It requires the agencies to educate employees about their rights (U.S. Department of State, 2015).

3.3 Occupational Safety and Health Administration:

This is a safety and health program developed for whistle-blowers, which contains those employees who report injuries or violations regarding safety are protected against retaliation from their employers. The employers who have been fired other adverse employment events from their reporting which can file a complaint. The main goal of this program is to prevent their whistle-blowers from illness, deaths, and injuries. It also includes financial hardships and sufferings for their employees and their families (Sawan, 2017). This program used the proactive approach for managing the working places. The other things included in this program are:

  • Reduce costs by providing compensations and premium
  • Improve compliances with rules and regulations
  • Prevent working places
  • Engage workers
  • Enhance their social responsibility goals (US Department of Labour, 2016).

There are many other numbers of laws which has been passed in 2000, like the Consumer Protection Act, Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reforms and Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and whistle-blower Protection Act.

4. Ethical or Unethical:

4.1. Whistle-blowing Ethical Phenomena:

The phenomena of whistle-blowing are considered as ethical behavior in its nature. It may sometimes lead to the conflicts and issues between organization and person. According to the code of ethics, an employee or the whistle-blower must blow the whistle to report any illegal or unethical conduct in the organization to the management team or others who are affected by the conduct. It is very difficult to differentiate the ethical or unethical behavior of a whistle-blower as it is only done to show the loyalty to the organization. The ethical behavior of a whistle-blower can be seen in a case where he discloses the information which causes serious harm to the organization and for the sake of public interest. This ethical behavior can be explained by the examples of the wrongdoings in the firm depicts that they will cause serious or harming impact to the public. In this case, whistle-blowing would be considered as ethical as t has been done in order to protect or prevent the organization (Ethics Sage, 2014). However, whistle-blowing is often seen in the open cultural environment where people have concerns regarding wrongdoings with related to good reasons. It has been seen that some organizations even supports the conduct of whistle-blowers without the retaliation and take them seriously in such a cultural environment. The organizations working on the internal whistle-blowing built many ethical codes and infrastructures to deal with the issues of wrongdoings like, ethical training and helplines which provide suggested way to report any misconduct. The behavior is considered ethical only if the whistle-blower before blowing the whistle to the public by believing that it would be less threatening to an organization as compared to external channels which used to threaten the public and results in the legal interventions (Norman, 2001).

Some people believe that the act of whistle-blowing is unethical as it involves disloyalty to the firm and effects the business environment, so they deserve to be punished. But employees are not always responsible for protecting the profit of the organization especially when it deals with the issue of public interests and social welfare. Some unethical activities may also involve in organizations but whistle-blowers always prefer to stay loyal to their job and be honest with their perceptions regarding rights and wrongs. It has been estimated that an organization may lose 5% of the profit due o the reluctant frauds which charge $3.8 trillion yearly throughout the globe. The act of whistle-blowing is considered as ethical as it the most effective way to resolve the issues of frauds in any organization. The theory of Rudolph suggests that everyone in the organization amends for small incidents or activities of wrongdoings. This will definitely create a friendly environment for all. This theory depicts that management should advocate accountability and  withself-regulation in order to protect business activities from any unethical behavior (Kongens, 2011).

4.2. Whistle-blowing Unethical Phenomena:

On the other hand, some people believe that whistle-blowing is an unethical phenomenon. The concept of whistle-blowing often explains that employees should blow the whistle when they are aware of unethical behavior in the firm. Basically, it depends on the motivational behavior of whistle-blower that how they react to the situation. It has been seen that some workers blow the whistle because of the grievance against their employer. This behavior is considered as unethical because it has been done in order to take revenge. This statement can be explained by the example when an employee had a disagreement with CEO or supervisor due to which they do not communicate with each other. In this case, they may blow the whistle to get the attention in the concerned issue. However, this type of whistle-blowing ends with the waste of effort and time. It only happens when workers think that they are treated unfairly by the management or the supervisor (Judy & Miriam, 2015). The whistle-blowing because of the personal issues can cause trouble and various problems in the management of the organization and organization lead to suffering a huge loss. On the other hand, whistle-blowing is considered unethical when the worker only see the one part of the issue and they believe some misconducts might not be the activity of wrong doings. This deed can also b explained by the example like some companies waste their materials for the testing of the product, which sometimes can be seen as an unfriendly environment or against the welfare of the organization. But in reality, this conduct is necessary and depicts the friendly environment because the products can be disqualified if they are not tested or checked properly. In this case, the whistle-blowing would be considered as unethical because whistle-blower doesn’t know the other part of the conduct or the reason behind this. The phenomena of whistle-blowing are also considered as unethical when it has been done to fulfill their own interest instead of the interest of the organization. It may involve several reasons like for financial benefits. It may be done to get the status of hero in the department in order to get the reward for this. Media starts representing them hero as they save the organization from some huge loss. This will provide them with long-term benefits. It is considered very hard or difficult to understand the reason behind the whistle-blowing (Diego, Dutra, & Filipe, 2013).

In order to avoid any harm to the reputation of the organization due to unethical whistle-blowing, they must need to take several steps:

  • The organization should accept their faults instead of criticizing the whistle-blower.
  • They should implement an ethical code of conduct for all the employees who in all situations have to obey the ethical regulations.
  • They must execute an investigation for which the employee is blamed. It should be done through the third party in order to prevail justice.
  • ·         They should initiate correct measures so that the public should not suffer due to their faults (Robert, 2016).