With the popularity of the Edward Snowden case and the infamy of groups like Wikileaks, some people may be left wondering, “Is whistleblowing illegal?” The answer is of course not, but there may be some instances where the method of used may cross ethical or even legal boundaries. It is always best to understand the rules and laws concerning the legality of exposing what you believe to be fraud or abuse to ensure that you protect yourself from litigation.
Cases such revolving around the persons of Edward Snowden and Pfc. Manning have raised serious questions regarding the ethical behavior of whistleblowers. The question does not seem to be so much “is whistleblowing legal?” but rather were they ethical in how they chose to leak their information?
When is it right for someone to reveal information that they believe implicates their superiors in illicit or illegal activity? More and more individuals are being asked to sign NDA’s when they work with classified or sensitive information. That being the case; an employee can almost certainly expect initial legal actions to be taken against them if they are revealed to have leaked “secrets.”
Ultimately the choice of the potential whistleblower is one of conscience. Do they believe the information needs ought to be revealed? If they are motivated by potential monetary rewards, then they should determine if the potential legal risks are worth the potential monetary gain.
There have been a number of laws passed by Congress through the years to protect whistleblowers from retaliation. The two most widely known are the False Claims Act and the Whistleblowers Enhanced Protection Act (WEPA). These laws offer protections to both the corporate and the federal whistleblower. There is also the OSHA program titled, The Whistleblower Protection Program that oversees the enforcement of over twenty provisions protecting employees from retaliation and discrimination resulting from being a whistleblower.
The reality is that whistleblowing is legal. It has been protected in one form or another since the founding of America. Dozens of countries around the world have instituted their own versions of laws to protect those who come forward with information regarding fraud or abuse. However, even with the laws, it can still be a complicated issue.
Whistleblowing in the Workplace
Nowhere is the question about the legality of whistleblowing more troubling than in the workplace environment. Many times employees are scared of retaliation against them if they expose their supervisor, employer, or even company for fraud or abuse.
If you believe that you have been a witness to fraud, abuse, or illegal activity in your place of employment, here are some steps that you should follow.
- Carefully document the facts of your complaint.
- Research your company’s whistleblowing policy.
- Do they support whistleblowing?
- Do they offer a hotline for making complaints?
Carefully follow the procedures outlines for making your complaint. The closer you follow procedure, the more likely you are to get the resolution you desire.
- Document any instances of retaliation, discrimination or demotion you believe to be a result of your decision to blow the whistle. This will be helpful in seeking restitution if necessary.