Many stories about whistleblowers made it into films, news reports, podcasts, and books. Each premise is different, but they all come down to individuals or groups taking the brave step of coming forward about illegal government activity, crimes committed by corporations and their leaders, or other instances of corruption, fraud and wrongdoing. Below is a shortlist of common misunderstandings regarding whistleblowers:
- They sacrifice their career to do it: Many have been punished professionally for their brave actions, but laws protect them against retaliation. Many remain in the job or move on to other professional opportunities.
- They must go public: Investigators evaluate the initial information provided without revealing the identity of the whistleblower. The whistleblower may then be able to arrange it so that their identity remains confidential throughout the investigation.
- They shouldn’t go public: Sometimes, it is better to publicly say something so the whistleblower can build support from other organizations or figures.
- They must have first-hand information: The authorities are interested in any source with credible information. Those not directly involved may have less bias and emotional attachment to organizations or wrongdoers, making them more credible.
- Bias disqualifies the whistleblower: Bias or motives against wrongdoers are okay if the information is accurate and helps authorities catch the perpetrators.
- They do it for the money: Some whistleblowers receive a reward while others do not. The financial implications of the wrongdoing will help dictate if there is a reward. In some cases, the money can provide a safety net if the whistleblower chooses to leave their job.
- Rewards lead to more false claims: The Booth School of Economics found no evidence of this when it conducted a study on the impact of monetary rewards.
- Whistleblowers are disloyal: Those who come forward often do so because they are loyal to the organization’s stated goals.
- Whistleblowers have a choice: Regardless of compensation, whistleblowers often do not go snooping for wrongdoing; they find it while doing their job. Many say they did it because there was a moral principle at stake.
It is no myth that each situation is different
Some of the information offered above may seem contradictory because it is. Those facing the difficult decision to come forward will need to weigh options based on the details of the situation. They can do this with the help of an attorney who works with whistleblowers to protect their client’s rights and handle the information properly and effectively.