Whistleblowers always know that there could be negative consequences for exposing the truth. However, they hope that the law remains on their side throughout the process.
One common thought process is there should be legal implications for outing a whistleblower. After all, one of the main reasons whistleblowers feel safe stepping forward is because they can stay anonymous. But, can they really?
A Sense Of Moral Obligation
Typically, whistleblowers know the risks, but file reports anyway due to a strong sense of moral obligation. However, according to the Ethics & Compliance Initiative, 53% of US employees face retaliation. This alone hinders an effective tool for stopping unethical practices in the workplace.
However, the law still isn’t fully on whistleblowers’ sides just yet. The constant push by President Trump’s administration to expose the whistleblower during his impeachment hearings shows that it’s a tricky gray area indeed.
How The Law Works
There are clear laws in place to help protect whistleblowers from retaliation. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 is the most notable. However, every state has separate laws in place for different forms of retaliation, such as blacklisting employees. According to Zuckerman Law, the SEC Whistleblower Program is required to do everything possible to keep a whistleblower’s identity anonymous. They’re usually represented by an attorney who then files all required paperwork on their behalf. The only time they’re required to submit their name is to receive their award, but this is only to the SEC. Their identity is still kept anonymous otherwise.
The False Claims Act works a bit differently. During the investigation, the whistleblower’s identity is kept anonymous. Only those directly involved in the investigation know the identity. Should the Department of Justice decide not to pursue the investigation, the whistleblower can revoke their claim and remain anonymous. However, if the whistleblower continues without the DOJ or the DOJ opens an investigation, the whistleblower’s name is revealed.
Legally, a business can release a whistleblower’s name. Often times, this is a necessary evil during an investigation. However, every business may have different processes in place for protecting a whistleblower. All of this information should be easily accessible before filing any type of report. It’s important to note that whistleblowers are much more likely to file reports that can help businesses improve if they know they’ll be fully protected.
Protections Are Limited
Overall, there aren’t really any legal implications for outing a whistleblower. Individual agencies may protect a whistleblower’s identity to a point, but the name may eventually come out. The only real protections are in regards to retaliation. Even then, it’s often difficult to prove discrimination, harassment, being fired and mental health issues are a direct result of whistleblower retaliation.
Despite all the benefits of whistleblowers, they don’t get the protections they deserve. Businesses and governments all benefit. The only ones who don’t are those guilty of unethical practices. From improved reputations to higher profits, whistleblowers are useful. In order to encourage more legitimate whistleblowing, laws need to be in place to ensure better anonymity and anti-retaliation. In the mean time, using an anonymous hotline service will help whistleblowers feel more comfortable filing an ethics report.