Black’s Law Dictionary defines a whistleblower as: “[a]n employee who reports employer wrongdoing to a governmental or law enforcement agency.” $104 million was granted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld, which is the largest whistleblower award given to date. He provided information to the IRS on how the Swiss bank helped Americans avoid taxes.
Wise organizations reduce the risk of whistleblower lawsuits by creating A) a system where employees can safely report misconduct, and, B) an ethical organizational culture which protects the employees from retaliation. Productivity is enhanced when employees are assured they will be heard for stepping forward with unpleasant news.
For example, in many states Sexual Harassment training is not mandatory. Yet, in California it is strictly enforced. So what would an effective organization do with a supervisor in a state where sexual harassment training isn’t taught who has a direct report in California? One does not need to consult Rocket Scientists to determine that business-savvy companies would cover their bases and elect to ensure that all management is prepared for statewide differences.
Types of Retaliation
Labor Code 1102.5 dictates that an employer may not retaliate against an employee for whistleblowing. However, laws are created for a reason. Here are the types of retaliation experienced by employees who reported misconduct at work:
Ignored/Treated differently by supervisor 69%
Ignored/Treated differently by other employees 59%
Excluded from decisions and work activity 54%
Verbally abused by supervisor or other manager 49%
Not given promotions or raises 47%
Verbally abused by other workers 43%
Almost lost job 38%
Cut in hours or pay 29%
Relocated or reassigned 28%
Harassed at home 18%
Experienced physical harm to person or property 16%
Experienced online harassment 15%
Create a comprehensive internal reporting system to suss out “dirty laundry” internally to fix it before it goes externally.
Consider the organizational gains of safe feedback reaching the C-Suite, as opposed to middle management seeking to discredit employees.
Provide annual training on your organization’s ethics policy, regardless of state law making it mandatory or not.
Consider one helpline being external consultants who can help employees handle the situation(s) effectively before the situation escalates.
Institute as part of on-boarding what your in-house Human Resource lawyers will and will not do for employees.
Remember that if you are not part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.
“Baby, let that whistle blow.” – Flo Rida
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass – a boutique consultancy of OD experts and three in-house HR lawyers. Visit us at CorporateLookingGlass.com.
©Rossina Gil, 2014
Black’s Law Dictionary
National Business Ethics Survey, Ethics Resource Center, 2013