For the average reader who has never had a serious ethical concern about their employer’s activities, it probably seems clear-cut that it is right to report something that is unethical or illegal. However, when faced with a real-life decision the issues can become fuzzier as employees try to balance doing what they think is right with keeping their jobs, providing for their families, and maintaining a good reputation.
It is illegal to fire an employee who honestly reports misconduct and employers are also banned from other types of retaliation like workplace harassment. Yet these types of retaliation happen more often than we would like to admit, even when an employee has reported conduct in good faith. As a result, when employees see conduct that is questionably unethical, such as misuse of company time, the decision to report it can be a difficult one.
One man recently told a reporter that he made the tough decision to report that his supervisor had lied to him, relying on the company’s strong policy on ethics and their no retaliation policy. Still, after the investigation determined that there was no misconduct, the man suffered from retaliation from that same supervisor. The working conditions that followed eventually caused him to leave his job.
A major problem in a case like this is that the boss’s behavior was not technically illegal since the man who reported the misconduct was reporting an ethic violation not illegal activity and therefore did not qualify for whistleblower protections.
Employees who are concerned about these types of issues at their workplaces may want to find out their rights before they make a determination about the best course of action.
Source: New York Times, "Opting to Blow the Whistle or Choosing to Walk Away," Alina Tugend, Sept. 20, 2013.