How to Safely Blow the Whistle | Aiman-Smith & Marcy
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How to Safely Blow the Whistle

Whistleblowers are often the heroes who save companies from themselves. A whistleblower is someone who provides information to law enforcement or regulatory agencies about a business that the whistleblower has observed from the inside engaging in suspected illegal, unsafe, or improper activities. The whistleblower is an irreplaceable source of information to enhance regulatory compliance.

Dangers.

There is considerable danger in the whistleblower role. Often whistleblowers perform their vital function against a lot of pressure, relying on law to protect them. In many cases, whistleblowers have to seek legal counsel to make sure they are well protected. Law enforcement agents often have to rely on whistleblowers to come forward with information they cannot gather themselves. Whistleblowers often instigate actions that could not have been initiated without them.

Cautions and Self-Defense.

Because of the danger of retaliation, it is always best for a someone with damaging information to try to handle his or her case within the organization itself, using whatever communication channels are available. A person with damaging information about a business practice should always assume that the practice is limited to one level of the organization and that senior managers would like to correct it internally. The deeper concern is when senior management is itself implicated in the improper practice.

In one instance, an employee of a large organization found that unqualified people were being promoted for supervisory duties outside of the normal vetting process. This practice was affecting the productivity of the business. He reported these observations to senior management. Then he found that his own performance was being very carefully observed by supervisors and he was soon summarily dismissed for a minor error.

Anyone who observes a practice in their organization that violates the law or an important regulatory standard and has suffered retaliation in an effort to silence the complaint should immediately obtain legal counsel. Where violations of legal standards or laws are the subject of a whistleblower action, the employee can sometimes file a “whistleblower complaint.”

Whistleblower Statutes.

Whistleblower statutes do not cover all unethical or even all illegal business practices. They cover violations of health and safety standards of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), violations of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations and violations of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. The whistleblower protection offered by the SEC and the EPA are narrow in focus.

The filing of whistleblower complaints is itself not always simple. If you are filing a complaint about violations of OSHA standards, you must file the complaint directly to the OSHA within a fixed time of the alleged reprisal. The time limit varies with the statute violated. Filing may be under the OSHA act with both federal and state authorities.

Complaints are filed using the Whistleblower Complaint Form, which can be sent online, by fax or mail. The complaint can also be made through a conversation with the local OSHA office by telephone. The OSHA conducts an interview with each complainant to determine the need for an investigation. If evidence supports the worker’s claim of discrimination, the OSHA will ask the employer to restore the worker’s job, earnings and benefits. The complaints themselves are investigated under a strict protocol.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is authorized by Congress to pay sizable monetary rewards to eligible individuals who provide high-quality whistleblower information where sanctions of over one million dollars are ordered. Whistleblowers can contact the SEC by phone.

The Environmental Protection Agency Whistleblowers Protection Act (2012) provides whistleblower protection for government scientists who challenge censorship of scientific information or who make whistleblower disclosures. EPA whistleblower complaints are handled through the office of a whistleblower ombudsman designated by the EPA Office of the Inspector General.