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Workplace Fairness Weekly

Workplace Fairness Weekly (3/25/19)

Topic of the Week  Blowing the Whistle - Practical Tips

When you see something wrong going on at work, what do you do? There are many laws that protect whistleblowers from retaliation. However many whistleblowers end up discharged before they ever made a decision to blow the whistle. Some just did their quality control jobs too well. One day they discovered that the boss did not share their high standards. Others acted from innate moral values when an opportunity arose, and did the right thing without advance thinking. They can still assert their rights if the employer takes adverse action on account of the protected, if impulsive, activity. Before you decide to blow the whistle, do your homework and be prepared for the process. 

 

Are you required to notify your employer that you are a whistleblower?

Some whistleblower protections require that employees notify the employer before reporting certain issues to outside agencies. The federal employee protections enforced through the Department of Labor do not require following any chain of command. In these cases, you can choose to whom you will make reports. If you want to stay anonymous, you may want to consult a lawyer familiar with the agency you chose to receive your report, so that you know the answers to these questions:

  • What is the agency's reputation for maintaining confidentiality?
  • What are the laws that would protect you?

What documentation should I gather to protect my job?

Gather and put in chronological order all of the documents that you can find concerning your employment--every pay stub, every memo, and every handwritten note. Try, within your company's rules, to get copies of:

  • Performance evaluations
  • Disciplinary warnings or reprimands
  • Letters of thanks or praise (from managers, customers, or co-workers)
  • Internal memos
  • Company bulletins
  • Attendance record
  • Any document stating the reason for your dismissal
  • Handbooks, manuals, or other documents describing work rules, policies, and procedures
  • Pension benefits and retirement plan information
  • Documents related to your unemployment compensation claim
  • Copies of work assignments
  • Organizational charts, diagrams, floor plans, etc.

Do not take documents or access information to which you have no right and are not entitled. If you are a union member, ask your union to assist in acquiring documents that are otherwise difficult to obtain, but to which you are legally entitled.

Surviving the process

The Government Accountability Project suggest the following twelve survival strategies for those who want to blow the whistle wisely:

  • Before taking any irreversible steps, talk to your family of close friends about your decision to blow the whistle.
  • Be alert and discreetly attempt to learn of any other witnesses who are upset about the wrongdoing.
  • Before formally breaking ranks consider whether there is any reasonable way to work within the system by going to the first level of authority. If you do decide to break ranks, think carefully about whether you want to "go public" with your concerns or remain an anonymous source. Each strategy has implications: the decision depends on the quantity and quality of your evidence, your ability to camouflage your knowledge of key facts, the risks you are willing to assume, and your willingness to endure intense public scrutiny.
  • Develop a plan, such as strategically-timed release of information to government agencies, so that your employer is reacting to you, instead of vice-versa.
  • Maintain good relations with administration and support staff.
  • Before and after you blow the whistle, keep a careful record of events as they unfold. Try to construct a straightforward, factual log of the relevant activities and events on the job, keeping in mind that your employer will have access to your diary if there is a lawsuit.
  • Identify and copy all necessary supporting records before drawing any suspicion to your concerns.
  • Break the cycle of isolation: research, identify, and seek a support network of potential allies, such as elected officials, journalists, and activists. The solidarity of key constituencies can be more powerful than the bureaucracy you are challenging.
  • Invest the funds to obtain a legal opinion from a competent lawyer.
  • Always be on guard not to embellish your charges.
  • Engage in whistleblowing initiatives on your own time and with your own resources, not your employer's.
  • Don't wear your cynicism on your sleeve when working with the authorities.

 

Thought of the Week

"Whistleblowers like those being awarded today may be the source of ‘smoking gun’ evidence and indispensable assistance that strengthens the agency’s ability to protect investors and the capital markets."

–Jane Norberg, chief of the SEC’s whistleblower office on a whistleblowing case at JP Morgan

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

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    • Whistleblower and Retaliation Claims in New York
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