Advice for Whistleblowers

One of the most terrifying things that can happen to you as an employee is to find yourself in possession of information that reveals serious wrongdoing by someone of higher rank in the organization. No matter what you do with the information you may lose your job, but you could be emotionally scarred as well if you are not prepared. Even if you are prepared, you may not have a happy outcome. It might be only bearable at best.

I have been in this situation twice and have known several others who have found themselves involuntarily forced into becoming whistleblowers. It is not a situation one cares to repeat, but there are some things you should know which may help you survive with your sanity and dignity intact. By the way, we were all fired, for reasons which will become obvious.

By executive wrongdoing, I mean every serious off-policy and illegal activity you can imagine. These include: drug use, extreme sexual harassment, theft, cooking the books, insider trading, industrial espionage, falsifying sales records, diversion of money, falsifying time sheets, etc. The list is practically endless and many of the companies I worked for had at least one incident occur in the executive ranks while I was there. Fortunately, I was directly involved in the discovery of only two of these. Others blew the whistle on the rest.

First, let us see why such wrongdoing exists in the first place. There is generally a climate which fosters or is tolerant of wrongdoing by executives. If the person has been doing this wrongdoing for a few months, those higher in the organization are deliberately ignoring it for some reason. They may be afraid to talk or they may be involved in some wrongdoing of their own.

Your discovery of this information puts you in an extremely difficult position. You generally have no one you can turn to. If you confront the wrongdoer directly, you will almost always be fired for any number of false reasons.

Human Resources, contrary to your expectations, is not your friend. HR is there to protect the company and its executives against employees like you. They may give you an audience, but they will generally take no action against the offending executive. Instead, they will probably put you on report for trumped up charges of failing to do your job properly and may recommend your dismissal.

Getting a lawyer generally does not help, because you probably signed an agreement when you were hired that allowed your employer to dismiss you at any time for cause or for no cause.

Perhaps you decide to compromise your integrity, and say nothing about this to anyone at work. The resulting self-degradation will eat at you until you become ill or until you can no longer stand yourself. At this point, your work will suffer and you become a candidate for disciplinary action and dismissal unless you have already quit in disgust.

So, what can you do to come out of this with your sanity and reputation intact?

If you have understood what I have said so far, you will realize leaving this organization under your own steam is your only option. Yes, you can report the wrongdoer, but you should do it only after you have secured employment in another company or in another division of the same company, preferably with someone who detests the executive who is doing wrong and getting away with it.

Why should you leave this organization you have put so many years into? Look around you! You are in an organization that validates bad behavior by executives. What chance do you have for advancement? Go someplace where you have a chance to start anew. Once you start making waves, you will lose any chance for good references. Leave while you can and use your new experience to make sure that your new company is a more ethical place.

One more point. Keep your findings to yourself and do not share them with co-workers. You are likely to find that they do not want to hear about them. They recognize you as a lightning rod that is already buzzing with a corona discharge and will withdraw from you at the first opportunity. They may even report you to protect themselves. Once you are tagged as a whistleblower, anyone associating with you is putting their careers at risk.

So, in conclusion, you may not have asked for this opportunity, but you have inherited it nonetheless, so make the best of it. Get a new job before the roof caves in on those who misbehave and those who allow such behavior. You have just discovered that your company or division is infested with cockroaches and management likes it!

Move out smartly and consider yourself fortunate. Good luck.

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0 Responses to Advice for Whistleblowers

  1. Denny says:

    This the most practical advice I’ve ever seen for people in this horrible situation, which is caused by truly evil people who destroy companies and investor equity–for personal gain. I hope your post helps undo at least one of them.

  2. Wish this post had been available a few years ago. I got fired for blowing the whistle on a boss doing drugs. His entire department was about to quit (many without jobs lined up) and I felt it was my moral duty to inform someone of what was happening. So much for getting rewarded for doing the right thing…

  3. David says:

    I know someone else who blew the whistle on her boss for doing drugs and got fired for it. I am proud to know both of you because it takes a lot of courage to confront a boss under these circumstances.

    I wrote this post in the hopes that it might clear up some of the mystery behind this kind of firing and allow you to let go of this unfortunate episode.

    Doing the moral thing without grasping the circumstances surrounding the activity leaves a whistleblower vulnerable to attack by those who seek to conceal the activity.

    You will run into this type of activity again. I hope this post prepares you for the next time.

  4. Doing the right thing, in the face of wrongdoing, takes great personal courage.

    Knowing that being a whistleblower on those who do harm to the business, the employees, the shareholders, and customers can get you fired, is a difficult choice for many people. Most choose to simply look the other way, rather than stand up for what’s good and right.

    It’s a rare person indeed, who does the right thing, often at great personal cost to themeselves.

    It always strikes me as odd, that a person who defends the good of the business, employees, customers, and shareholders is seen as the “bad guy”. When did doing one’s job, with honour and dignity, become wrong and punishable?

    I have the deepest respect for anyone who stands up to be counted.

    That display of integrity, honesty, and courage should be rewarded with honour!

  5. Candy says:

    Unfortunately, I am in this situation myself, right now, and while I am looking for a job, I haven’t been able to find anything. I know I am going to be screwed over, but I can’t look the other way and let this go by. I’ve got to be able to look myself in the mirror. I feel just morally soiled by continuing to take a paycheck from this place, but I have a family to support. Thanks for posting this though, at least I know I’m not alone.

  6. I have been forced into the hot seat twice in my career and blew the whistle both times because I was uncomfortable lying and also cared for the good of the deptartment/company.

    The first time I was fired along with my boss–and they actually admitted the reason I got it too was for disloyalty towards my boss.

    The second time around I’d like to have made a different choice but circumstances were such that
    if I had covered for my boss it would have ultimately been discovered that I had lied, he’d have been fired anyway and likely me too. But I gave up the info again and was more fortunate that time–my boss was fired and I was promoted.

    Having it come to you is sometimes unavoidable and I wish it on no one.

    Actively choosing to pursue it? Risky. I don’t recommend it unless you are prepared to lose your job and possibly your reputation. Probably not worth it–unless, of course, the situation is so serious lives are in danger. For most of us, this is not the case.

  7. Carrie says:

    i’m late to this but wanted to thank you for writing this down. I’ve given similar advice since my career tanked (and my health with it) and it’s good for me to know i’m not completely stupid in advising those in similar situations to get out while they can.

  8. patricia says:

    I did not realize that the position we took as park managers, was full of poison. Or we would not have taken the job. Once we took the 118b class we realized that the owners were doing all kinds of illegal activities.
    We told them that we could not do things because we did not have a license threw the state manufactured housing. They fired us for other reasons to cover them selves. Know they are trying to charge us for space rent for 4 months on our mobile home. and never gave us our last pay check. They are also trying to set us up so they can take our mobile home from us. They have done this to other honest managers. They kept a couple that is doing alot of illegal stuff for them.

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