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When whistleblowing policies backfire

If you knew or suspected your employer was engaged in illegal or unethical activities, would you report it to the government or legislative authority in your industry? Most of us would like to think we'd do the right thing and report our suspicions, even if it meant risking our jobs or opportunities within the company.

However, a new study suggests that most employees hesitate to report wrongdoing by a manager or employer, even if employers have explicit policies protecting whistleblowers' rights. In fact, the study finds that employees who work for companies with such policies are less likely to blow the whistle. Why might this be?

The answer has to do with behavioral psychology. Employees often hear of whistleblowing cases via the news, usually when an employee has sued for retaliation or termination. Perhaps they know someone who was fired or denied promotion due to a whistleblowing claim, or even for filing a claim with HR.

So, the mere presence of whistleblower protection policies creates an unconscious fear that those policies will not be upheld. After all, this seems to be what happens every time whistleblowing cases make the news. Researchers found that having an explicitly stated whistleblowing policy actually lowers the likelihood of an employee's taking action by 25 percent on average.

How you can protect your rights

Of course, there are certainly companies that uphold their stated policies regarding whistleblowing. Companies that foster a culture of honesty and "practice what they preach" are often more likely to avoid legal action from their employees.

That being said, there are also businesses that do not have whistleblowing policies or attempt to skirt around their policies when facing investigation by a governmental authority. If you feel threatened or have suffered retaliation because you blew the whistle on your employer, speak with an experienced employment law attorney. He or she will help you take advantage of the protections offered to you under both state and federal laws.

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