Noticing unethical or illegal practices in your workplace can be a startling discovery. You may see evidence of fraud, environmental crimes, mismanagement of government resources or discrimination that you know is wrong and certainly not in the public’s best interests. Once you are aware of such activity, you have two choices. You can keep quiet and remain complicit, or you can step forward and instigate change.
Turning whistleblower could bring about significant and positive changes. However, this path is seldom a comfortable ride. By blowing the whistle, you might expose yourself to many risks, such as illegal retaliation by your employer or even efforts to publicly discredit and disgrace you. Doing the right thing is not always easy, but there are ways to protect yourself and minimize the risk.
Building the case
Having legal advocacy early in the whistleblowing process can prove invaluable. Firstly, an attorney can help you determine whether you will have the option to remain anonymous during the process. A lawyer can also advise you of your rights as a whistleblower and how best to protect them.
You will also want to discuss your decision with your family. They will likely have to deal with the fallout, and you will need their emotional support during this challenging time. Meanwhile, whistleblower advocates recommend taking the following actions:
- Be discreet in your workplace to avoid arousing suspicion while you collect evidence.
- Keep a journal so you can refresh your memory as time passes.
- Cautiously document evidence, such as taking photos, using your own equipment or materials to avoid allegations of theft.
- Keep evidence safe in case your employer tries to destroy any documentation.
- Do not use company time or resources to conduct your investigation.
- Stay on the job as long as you can so you have access to evidence.
Of course, your legal advisor may have other recommendations for your unique situation, and you would be wise to follow that advice.
Prepare for blowback
Standing up for truth and ethical workplace practices is not easy. Those who engage in wrongdoing in the workplace may be doing so for significant monetary gain, to save money, or for other personal benefits. There is a good chance that they will not be gracious about your interruption of those benefits.
Although it is illegal, you could face retaliation, such as job loss, demotion, on-the-job gaslighting or even threats of physical harm. Nevertheless, if you believe the good from whistleblowing outweighs those risks, you will want to be sure to take care of yourself and create a network of support to insulate you from any toxic outcomes.