Advice For Would Be Whistleblowers
They say no good deed goes unpunished and sadly that is the
truth in the world of the whistleblower. The theory on 'whistle
blowing' is that the individual is helping the community, and
following their ethics, by reporting the offending person or
company. The risk of recrimination is very high and usually
results in a long and difficult fight for the whistleblower.
This battle will likely including legal threats and character
So what can you do to protect yourself when you do blow the
whistle? Having been through this process I have gain some
insight on how best to handle the situation.
1. Documentation :: Once you suspect that something is wrong you
should begin documenting. Start by taking notes in a log book or
note pad. This information will be helpful when you need to tell
your story and will provide the detail needed to track down
further evidence of wrong doing. Next, start collecting
pertinent documents. The best way is to copy documents
(photocopy, computers docs, etc.). When you think you have
enough, double it. Pictures, phone recordings, documents,
conversations, e-mails are all important and should be noted
when possible. There can never be enough documentation. Once the
authorities begin investigation documents had a tendency to
Many people who don't know the laws will try to tell you that
these methods are illegal. The fact is they are not. In Canada
it is legal to record a conversation or phone call as long as
one of the parties is participating in the conversation. The
removal of documents from the workplace is a gray area. Under
normal circumstances removing company information is illegal,
however when it is evidence it can be collected. In a Canadian
court all evidence will be considered. Check with your
governments laws or speak with a lawyer before taking any risks.
2. Minimize Your Exposure :: When you draw up the courage, and
support, to finally report the issues there are a few things you
need to do. First, it is best if you stay at your job while you
report the issues. Sometimes the authorities will ask you
questions, that will help them with their investigation, and
being at the location is beneficial. Ask to be kept anonymous,
if possible, but sometimes this can't be done. Next, get your
resume polished up and start sending it out. Then prepare
financially by locating your employment insurance office. Tell
them that you are blowing the whistle on your employer and you
may be fired for it. Provide the person with the contact names
of whichever authority you contacted. The idea is to build a
repour, so if bad things happen, people will know the facts.
Don't loose that all important safety net.
3. Go with your Instincts :: Most people will tell you not to
blow the whistle because there are no winners. They are
partially right, but without your courage people will get hurt,
the rich will get richer and abuse their powers. You can change
that by doing what you feel it right. We often cloud our
thinking with other peoples perceptions, but only you can
determine what to do. Most of the time your instinct are right
and you should trust them. If you listen to others and they
convince not to go with your instincts, and then something bad
happens, you have to live with the consequences, not them.
4. Be Patient :: Nothing happens quickly no matter how fast you
want to be done with it. The reality is that things will go much
slower than you ever expected them too. The best way to make
sure things are moving is to do some research. For example, if
you file a complaint against a medical professional, the
regulatory College that receives the complaint will have a
complaints process. However, this is usually regulated by a
government agency that has legislation regarding complaints. In
Ontario all complaints must be handled in 120 days. If not, you
can contact the Health Professions Appeal & Review Board and
they will contact the College and accelerate the process.
Some other tips to accelerate the process include contacting
your local politician, begin a letter writing campaign to media
outlets and compiling your story onto an internet site. Be
persistent when dealing with each agency, don't accept their
statements at face value and always follow up.
5. The Media is Not a Solution :: They can help but you have to
convince them to write the story. Many times it may take months
for them to move. Remember they don't want any liability, they
are a profit motivated company and will only publish story's
that make them a dollar. If your former employer is litigious,
they will probably be too scared to publish. The media has no
problem reporting history, so once a final verdict is reached,
by the authorities, they will write a story. Unfortunately it
will be to late to help you.
Some of the smaller media outlets may be more willing to help
you. Take a look at freelance writers, who may spend more time
working on your story and getting the facts. They also have the
contacts you need to get it published.
6. Prepare for an Attack on your Character and Legal Threats ::
The person or company you are dealing with will not let things
go easily. The first response will be to discredit you. If you
look like an disgruntled employee or someone with a vendetta
then your story will be less believable. It's easy for the
person or company to do this. If they were unethical to start
with, it's not a huge leap for them start lying about you after
you report them. There isn't much you can do except try to
disprove they're statements. Use the document you gathered to
clearly show that they are the guilty party and you were just
being ethical. In the end your efforts will be recognized. You
will probably receive a cease and desist letter, don't be overly
concerned as this is most likely posturing. If you are worried,
speak with a lawyer.
7. Use Lawyers Sparingly :: Nobody can fight with the passion
you have and no lawyer will ever put the amount of effort you
already have into your fight. Replying to a cease and desist
letter is easy, just stick with the facts, provide the evidence
and take the high road. Most lawyers will act like an 600 lb
gorilla, your job is to be bigger. In all likelihood they won't
want to take this issue to a public forum, like a court room,
especially if you have documented the case very well. That would
give you a perfect opportunity to invite the media and lay your
case out. Examples of cease and desist responses can be found at
If you need legal advice, get it, but don't let the lawyer bleed
you dry. Have your questions prepared on paper and sit down with
the lawyer and discuss the issue. If they charge a minimum of
one hour time, use it all. One good thing to do is prepare a
short summary of the facts in your case, and fax it in to the
law office. Don't ask question in the letter. Blowing the
whistle is stressful enough without having thousands of dollars
in legal fees.
Some people will tell you not to let the event consume you. If
it does consume you, it will affect other parts of your life.
But sometimes focussing your energy can be better if it will
resolve the issue quicker. It's better to throw your whole heart
into the matter, rather than fight with yourself. It is
difficult to not be consumed. My advice is to simply go with it.
The harder you work the quicker the issue will be resolved and
the sooner you can get on with your life.
The is no reward for doing a good deed, that's only in movies.
In the end however you should have the satisfaction that you
made your community or country a better place. People will
respect you for your efforts and hopefully inspire then to do
something good and that is a reward in itself.