Chapter Four – Whistle-Blowing
What is Whistle-Blowing?
Whistle-blowing is the voluntary release of non-public information, as a moral protest, by a member or former member of an organization to an appropriate audience outside the normal channels of communication regarding illegal and/or immoral conduct in the organization that is opposed to the public interest.
The Key Points in this Definition are:
1. A whistle-blower is a member or former member of an organization and not an outsider. 2. The information that is revealed by the whistle-blower is non-public information and not already-known facts. 3. The information concerns some significant misconduct by the organization or some of its members. 4. The information is revealed outside of the normal channels of corporate communication within an organization. 5. The information is revealed voluntarily and not by a legal mandate. 6. The information is revealed as a moral protest in order to correct some perceived wrong.
The Justification of Whistle-Blowing
Whistle-blowing pits an employee’s loyalty to the organization against his or her loyalty to the public interest. The justification of whistle-blowing therefore requires an understanding of the duty of loyalty that an employee owes an employer.
The Loyal Agent Argument against Whistle-Blowing
An employee is an agent of his or her employer. An agent is a person engaged to act in the interest of another person, who is known as the principal. Employees are legally agents of their employers. As agents, they are obligated to work as directed, to protect confidential information, and, in general, to act in the principal’s best interest
Although the whistle-blower might appear to be a disloyal agent, the obligations of an agent’s loyalty has limits. Whistle-blowing, therefore, is not incompatible with being a loyal agent. Two limits on the obligation of agents are especially important: 1. An agent has an obligation to obey only reasonable directives of the principal, and so an agent cannot be required to do anything illegal or immoral. 2. The obligations of an agent are confined to the needs of the relationship. Thus, an employee is not obligated to do anything that falls outside the scope of his or her employment.
The Justification of Whistle-Blowing
The meaning of loyalty:
The law of agency aside, whistle-blowing is not always an act of disloyalty in the ordinary meaning of the word. If loyalty is viewed as a commitment to the true interests or goals of an organization, rather than merely the following of orders, then many whistle-blowers are loyal employees.
Sociological studies have shown that whistle-blowers are often loyal employees who choose to expose wrongdoing in the belief that they are doing their job and acting in the best interest of the company. Whistle-Blowing
In the book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, Albert O. Hirschman holds that speaking out (voice) and leaving (exit) are the main options for dissatisfied organization members and that those who exercise the voice option are generally more loyal than those who decide to exit.
Conditions for Justified Whistle-Blowing
The following questions should be considered when deciding whether or not to blow the whistle. 1.
Is the situation of sufficient moral importance to justify whistle-blowing? How serious is the potential harm compared to the possible benefits? To what extent is the harm a predictable and direct result of the protested activity? How imminent is the harm? 2.
Do you have all the facts and have you properly understood their significance? Whistle-blowers must support allegations with adequate evidence and not draw conclusions about matters beyond their expertise. 3.
Have all internal channels and steps short of whistle-blowing been exhausted? Most organizations require employees to address concerns with an immediate superior or through internal channels of communication. 4.
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