Whistleblowers are a controversial subgroup of the modern workforce. Although their intentions are often pure and they frequently uncover wrongdoings or shortcomings in their particular niche, there are usually some consequences too.
Complicating matters even further is the relative ease of reporting suspected misdeeds in the 21st century. Uncovering wrongdoings in the past often stemmed from hands-on experience with a company — and it usually took years to build a case.
With the popularity of the internet, whistleblowers are now emerging in the most unlikely of places. Now it only takes seconds to spread the word about a company’s misdeeds — whether they’re true or not.
Although whistleblowers are guarded in the United States by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, the amount of protection is minimal — and it doesn’t provide any coverage for the potential fallout of blowing the whistle.
Per a 1990 survey by McMillan, 90 percent of U.S.-based whistleblowers lost their jobs or received demotions, and 27 percent faced legal issues — including defamation. On the darker side, 10 percent eventually attempted suicide as a result of their actions. Another survey, conducted by Whistleblowers Australia (WBA) in 1993, revealed similar numbers.
According to the WBA’s survey, companies often use informal or subversive tactics to punish a whistleblower who remains a part of their organization after the fact. Common strategies include isolation from workplace or industry peers, removal of normal work duties and responsibilities and other disciplinary actions.
Most states have also enacted laws and anti-retaliation clauses for whistleblowers, but these protections only go so far. They also require the whistleblower to prove that the retaliation is a direct result of their whistleblowing, and that’s not always an easy task.
The amount of potential retaliation also depends on the whistleblower’s status as a public or private sector employee. It’s much safer to report wrongdoings and misdeeds in the public sector, as these issues often affect public health or safety and are almost always covered by local laws. Those in the private sector don’t always have such protection.
Smaller, localized incidents tend to disappear after some time. While there are some famous cases and prominent names that are forever cast as whistleblowers — like Erin Brockovich and Edward Snowden — those cases are the exception.
Most whistleblowers have to leave their current job — especially if the issue involves their employer. Others accept a demotion or reassignment within the same organization, but these new positions typically don’t last very long.
Some whistleblowers go bankrupt during the process. It takes a lot of time to build a case and shed light on a company’s misdoings. Presenting the issue in a court of law adds weeks — and sometimes months or years — to the otherwise straightforward task of whistleblowing. Making matters worse is the fact that most court cases are not settled in the complainant’s favor.
Others have to relocate to another state or, in the most extreme cases, another country entirely. Edward Snowden, a U.S.-born citizen and former member of the CIA, currently lives under asylum in the Russian city of Moscow. Their government recently decided to extend his right to asylum until 2020 at the earliest.
Living Productively After Blowing the Whistle
The act of whistleblowing sometimes has unintended consequences that reach beyond the individual complainant, the offending company and the local community.
While it often addresses the misdeeds of corporations and governments around the world, the individuals who shed light on these shady acts are often targeted — legally or illegally — by those who don’t agree with their tactics for one reason or another.
Whether they’re seen as martyrs or miscreants, their lives are usually changed after the fact.
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(Security Affairs – whistleblowers, cybersecurity)