whistleblowers law

Why Whistleblowers Are Protected By Law

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Everyone has secrets, and some are more obviously guarded than others. Unfortunately, powerful institutions (such as governments and complex corporations) get caught up in a tangled web, thinking that they need to protect the public from things they are ‘better off not knowing.’

Shady practices, high level incompetence, or outright criminality are things that these organisations have a special interest in keeping under wraps – away from the discerning eye of the public and yes, even their employees.

It was only a matter of time that people with an eye for noticing surreptitious activities, and the moral conscience to shine a light on them, would come ‘out of the woodwork.’

Origins of the Whistleblowers

The term ‘whistleblowers’ originally described a referee calling out foul play. It was first used in its new context by U.S. civic activist Ralph Nader in the 1970’s, to replace the negative connotations inherent in terms such as informant, or snitch.

Although these champions of truth still face many adversities in their mission to shed light on major corporate injustices, the value of whistleblowing to the public around the world has been increasing over the last 50 years. To ensure that these people are protected from retaliation, many governments have put laws into place.

It’s Not About Fame

There are many whistleblowers who risked their jobs, and even their lives, to alert the public to illegal activities which could impact them. Some incidents, and the names attached to them, were instantly seen as larger than life. Others became better known when their stories were told through books or film.

Of course, we’ve all heard of Edward Snowden – a former CIA tech worker who revealed himself as the whistleblower behind leaks which uncovered secret U.S. government surveillance programmes. There was also a brave Norma Rae, whose story was brought to light in the 1979 movie which bore her name, starring Sally Field. A simple factory worker from a small town, Rae became involved in labor activities at the textile company where she worked after her health and that of her co-workers was endangered.

The Fear of Retribution

According to the The Yorkshirepost, the fear of losing their job (53%) and the impact it would have on their career (23%) were two of the main reasons people said they would turn a blind eye to misconduct. It’s a simple thing to enquire on your behalf by reaching out for legal advice online. In the UK, your protection is ensured if you report any of the following complaints that count as whistleblowing:

  • a criminal offence was perpetrated
  • a person’s health and safety is in danger
  • there is risk or actual damage to the environment
  • there has been a miscarriage of justice
  • a company is breaking the law (as in not having insurance cover)
  • you believe someone is covering up wrongdoing

Complaints that do not count as whistleblowing (such as personal grievances like bullying, harassment, discrimination) are not covered under this law, unless your specific case is in the public interest.

Further information is available from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).

High-Tech Whistleblowing

In the digital tech world, the act of intellectual piracy is on the rise and whistleblowing is not far behind. The stakes have never been higher for organisations to keep their systems secure. According to  YouGov UK, “Recent research indicates that 64% of UK employees would report illegal software activities to an external body if they had raised an alarm internally that was ignored.”

Unfortunately, there still remains a large percentage of the citizenry who said they wouldn’t speak out, even if they saw the law broken. It emphasizes just how worried people are about what will happen to them if they do become an informant. Although it takes a brave heart to blow the whistle, it’s not as terrifying as some people think, as long as you reach out to those who will walk you through the process.

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