None of us wants to work for an employer where there is ongoing illegal misconduct. The boss may be stealing computers from the company, the CEO may be "cooking the books," a supervisor nurse may be stealing drugs from the pharmacy, or a manufacturer may be cutting corners in making drugs. When a company, through its managers, engages in illegal activity, it is serious. Thankfully, most employees do not work at a place where illegal conduct is ongoing and unreported.
What happens when you are one of the unlucky employees, where misconduct occurs. For example, what if you work at a business where products are mislabled as "Made in America" when they are really manufactured in China? What do you do?
Well, oftentimes, it is very hard to report wrongdoing of a management employee to the authorities or even to other members of management. The risk is real - job loss. Of course, many people and many companies do not condone dishonesty or deceit by employees, and, after an investigation, the unlawful behavior is stopped, the employee committing the behavior is dealt with, and the reporting employee can be a hero, the person with the resolve and honor who stops the wrongdoing. That is how it is supposed to work.
Unfortunately, companies do not always do the right thing. Remember Enron, where the whistleblowers were pariahs and dismissed or discredited. A true whistleblower is a rare and brave person, who risks not only losing his or her job, but potentially worse, bad rumors, no recommendations, blackballing, etc.
There are many different laws that apply to whistleblowers, even what is known as the "common law." for in most states when a company violates public policy by engaging in unlawful conduct and firing a whistleblower, even states that protect employers with "employment at will" laws, recognize the societal benefits of brave souls coming forward to do the right thing. The purpose of this entry is not to provide legal advice. There are many different laws and many different statutes of limitations.
Rather, this entry is part of my "what will happen to me if . . ." series. Many whistleblowers, unfortunately are terminated from employment. Although most people want to do the right thing, not all do. Greed, power, hubris, all affect ordinary people. While a whistleblower may be considered by an employer as merely a "snitch," a whistleblower is so much more. A snitch rats out others to get a better deal in a criminal case. Whistleblowers come forward even though their actions are against their own self-interest because it is the right thing to do.
Whistleblowers are courageous, but can be and are willing to endure unpopularity. Whistleblowers suffer loss of income, reputation and security. But whistleblowers are some of the bravest, most heroic members of society. I have represented many whistleblowers, some cases have gone to trial. I can tell you that my whistleblowing clients are some of the people who make me the proudest because what they do is the hardest.
In our society, it is hard to buck the status quo. It is hard to separate from the crowd. It is particularly hard to recognize wrongdoing and report it for the betterment of society. When companies resist following the law, or their boards of directors are too lazy or unconcerned to take action, whistleblowers have the hardest roads to hoe. But there are brace, concerned people out there who value justice, and they are the ones we are proud to represent. There is no more honorable employee than one who is willing to risk all for the betterment or society.