Andre Scott
UNIV 112
Ethics on Whistleblowing
Ever since we were all young we have been told to do the right thing. Don’t lie, be
truthful, don’t steal, if you see someone in trouble you should help them out, call the police if
they see something bad happening, etc. And lessons like these are instilled into the minds of
children so they will grow up to be respectable members of society. For example children while
in school are told to get a teacher or administrator if they see a fight or someone that is being
bullied, however when they become adults they are discouraged from notifying their superiors
about unethical acts made by coworkers or by the company itself. Barbara Ettorre wrote in
Whistleblowers: Who’s the Real Bad Guy? in Management Review that: “the sad fact is that in
today's supposedly enlightened business world, corporate America continues to treat its
whistleblowers poorly. The notion persists that it is disloyal and irresponsible to criticize one's
employer, notwithstanding the fact that the company has done wrong.” So why even teach our
children that they should notify those in authority of any wrongdoings if they are discouraged
from doing so in the workplace? Is whistleblowing really a noble act, or a cowardice deed? I say
that it is a very courageous act that is only performed by few people.
“Whistleblowing normally has been identified as an action taken by an employee,
alerting society to potential or actual damage to the public as a result of present or future actions
of the firm.” Whistleblowing can also be broken down into two different categories in which the
employee may notify others of the alleged wrongdoing; either internally or externally. Internal
Whistleblowing is when an employee will first try to notify their superiors of whatever
wrongdoing is occurring. The employee will follow the proper channels to notify the upper
management in order for their complaint to be heard. External Whistleblowing is when an
employee will notify the media, public interest groups, or regulatory agencies rather than the
management of the firm they work for. An employee will sometimes try to go through the proper
channels in their whistleblowing first before externally whistleblowing, in these cases there are
laws that can protect the employee from unlawful termination; however not all states have laws
that will protect the employee. There are federal laws that can protect government employees,
however they require employees to go through the proper channels through the chain of
command, otherwise that employee can face charges.
Whistleblowing is a moral action used by those with the courage to stand up for what is
right and for what is just. However there are those who see whistleblowing as a disloyal act made
by cowards. To those that hold this belief I respect you in having a right to your own opinion, but
I do believe that someone who is risking their employment, possible criminal charges, or
possible blackballing is neither a coward nor a disloyal person. And this is where the debate
comes in; is whistleblowing disloyalty or is it heroism? It comes down to the conflict of
remaining loyal to one’s firm and the liberty to speak out against wrongdoing. Well according to
Ronald Duska, business ethics consultant, he believes that no one owes a firm any sort of loyalty.
He doesn’t even believe in any moral dilemma for whistleblowing because “one does not have
an obligation of loyalty to a company, even a prima facie one, because companies are not the
kinds of things that properly objects of loyalty.” He says essentially that only humans are the
only “objects” that deserve any sort of loyalty. To me this means that it is the people, or society,
who deserves to be thought about first when it comes to the conflict of whistleblowing, not the
company someone works for.
Let’s say for example a big industrial company is secretly dumping waste against
regulations and the waste is getting into the local ground water and contaminating the water
supply, and an employee of said company finds out and has a moral problem against the
dumping. Then said employee tells their supervisors of the dumping and their concerns for
public safety, the supervisors dismiss the employee’s concerns and tells them to leave it alone.
Now this employee has two choices; either they keep quiet and allow the dumping to continue,
or they can notify the proper authorities and let them take over. If the employee allows the
dumping to continue they will be going against their own personal morals and allowing illegal
activity to be going on that is a possible health risk to the local population and the environment.
And if they notify the proper authorities they could possibly be fired from their position, thus
losing their income and livelihood.
I believe that this employee should notify the proper regulation authorities or the police
despite the risk of possible employment termination. It is for the greater good of the public and
the environment that the wrongdoings by the company in the example be brought to the public
eye and dealt with. Having the courage to stand up for what is right for the people in your society
is not cowardice. I also feel that Peter Singer would agree with the employee in the example’s
decision if they had chosen to blow the whistle. Singer believes in a global community where we
need to look out for each other. This, to me, says that our loyalties should be to the people in our
societies, not to big corporations.
Whistleblowers are not bad people and they surely are not bad employees, and the notion
that they are bad employees needs to end. Ettorre said that, “Discussions with experts, advocates,
human resource professionals and public interest groups about how organizations treat employee
whistleblowers illuminate a dismal picture. Other than outright dismissal, retaliation can and
does include demotion, false complaints about job performance, reassignment and relocation,
assignment of unsympathetic coworkers or supervisors and otherwise making the job difficult,
withholding of pension, orders to undergo psychological examination, investigation of finances
and personal life, and harassment of family and friends.” Perhaps companies could encourage
their employees to come forward about any wrongdoings they see, such as the situation stated
earlier. Maybe if that company had been encouraging its employees to come forward about
wrongdoings they wouldn’t have dismissed the employee in the example’s claims so easily.
Employees should also receive more legal support in case they do decide to blow the whistle on
the company they work for. Ettorre continues to say, “Mistreated employees have legal avenues
for redress, although many of these laws are enforced by the same systems in which the charges
originated. Nevertheless, there are signs that whistleblowers will be afforded some protection
from employer reprisals. One of the biggest stumbling blocks has been that whistleblower
protection laws have evolved inconsistently. GAP's Adam Devine says, ‘with or without legal
changes, it is a fact of life that when you bite the hand that feeds you, it tends to slap you, at the
least.’” Currently all states and the District of Columbia have laws that protect public employees
from retaliation from their employer in case of any sort of proven whistleblowing of any illegal
wrongdoing. However most of these laws protect public employees only, while a few states
protect both public and state employees; although there are federal laws that do protect all state
Whistleblowing is something that needs to be encouraged by employers in order to keep a
good work environment. It will show the employees that the company needs them to help keep
the company honest. To keep them in line and make sure the work environment and actions by
the company are kept to a certain standard that is ethical and legal. Whistleblowers are simply
moderators who, at times, risk their jobs in order to make sure the company they work for is one
that follows the law and provides a good work environment.
Ettorre, B. (1994). Whistleblowers: Who's the real bad guy? Management Review, 83.
Heacock, M., & McGee, G. (1987). Whistleblowing: An Ethical Issue in Organizational and
Human Behavior. Business & Professional Ethics Journal, 6(4), 35-46.
Lindblom, L. (2007). Dissolving the Moral Dilemma of Whistleblowing. Journal of Business
Ethics, 76(4), 413-426.
National Whistleblowers Center. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2015.