Blowing the whistle takes moral courage. Everyone has a measure of moral courage but sometimes there can be concerns or obstacles in having the courage to report misconduct and other unethical or bad behaviour.
If you’ve got access to an independent and external reporting mechanism for your disclosure, this should give you comfort in facilitating a trusted conversation. But you might still have some anxieties or questions and it’s good to get advice to help plan your disclosure beforehand.
Your Call has created a free Whistleblower’s Guidance Sheet with 10 tips to guide your disclosure. This is not legal advice. The 10 tips focus on the ethical challenges often faced by whistleblowers. Always consult a lawyer for personal legal advice, as needed, or the independent the external whistleblowing service provider nominated by your organisation.
A signed NDA does not protect illegal behaviour
Non-disclosure agreements (NDA) do not protect organisations from behaviour that is illegal, or other forms of misconduct. If you signed an NDA you are under no obligation to tolerate such behaviours and may report them.
Your role is to report, not to investigate
You don’t need “all the evidence” before reporting misconduct or unethical behaviour because the role of the whistleblower is not to investigate the case –someone else will do that. However, if you have evidence, this will help the investigation proceed more quickly. Evidence includes documents such as emails, meeting minutes, spreadsheets, receipts, presentation slides, etc.
Know the policies and related standards of behaviour
When considering “blowing the whistle,” review any relevant policies/codes/guidelines/procedures/handbooks at your organisation that would be specific to the breach or violation you are concerned about. Sometimes licensing boards and professional societies also have relevant behavioural rules. This reflective process can be helpful to you (and any eventual investigative team) in confirming the alleged misconduct.
You can remain anonymous
There is no ethical or legal obligation to disclose your personal identifying details when you submit a whistleblowing report; you are allowed to be anonymous at the time you present the case and may choose to remain anonymous during the investigation [but this can limit the depth of the investigation].
Be aware of the likelihood of identification
When as organisation assesses/investigates anonymous whistleblowing reports, there is always the risk that the whistleblower’s identity could become known. This is because there is a risk of case evidence creating logical identification links, or perhaps the whistleblower discussed the case with a peer who leaked the conversation to others.
Expect the unexpected
The outcome of whistleblowing cases is sometime not what the whistleblower expected. Sometimes, neither misconduct nor unethical behaviour is substantiated.
Robust and comprehensive investigations need time
Whistleblowing investigations take time, sometimes weeks or months, depending on how complex the case is, how many people are involved, and how much evidence there is to analyse. This time-course can sometimes be frustrating for whistleblowers but it allows for a robust investigation to occur.
The law and company policies should protect you from detrimental action
Retaliation and other forms of detrimental conduct against whistleblowers are not permitted and should be reported.
Blowing the whistle can be stressful due to anxieties about personal privacy, fears about retaliation, the time duration of the case, or other factors. Sometimes whistleblowers experience moral distress. Reach for support if needed, such as your organisation’s confidential employee assistance program, mental health support, and/or spiritual support.
Legal counsel options
Whistleblowers can benefit from legal counsel, and often there are free or low-cost legal clinics available (check the regional bar association website).
Whistleblowing is a positive social behaviour that has been empirically proven to cause meaningful behavioural changes in organisations . Whistleblowing can also help relieve moral distress caused by observing unethical behaviour and its consequences .
For further information about protected disclosures or our reporting hotline, get in touch with Your Call, [email protected]
Notes for further reading:  The Deterrent Effect of Whistleblowing on Insider Trading (12 August 2020), http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3672026;  Moral Distress in Perinatal Nursing, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11930459/