The Prevalence of Whistleblowing in Organizations

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History of Whistleblowing

The definition of a whistleblower is a past or pesent employee or member of an organization, who reports misconduct to people or entities that have the power and presumed willingness to take corrective action, or to notify the general public of wrongdoing. In most cases, whistleblowers are employees of the ogranization but can be employees of government agencies as well. Normally the misconduct being reported is a violation of law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest such as fraud, health, safety violations, and corruption. The word whistleblower originates from the old practice of English bobbies who would blow their whistle when they noticed a crime that was being committed. The blowing of the whistle would alert both law enforcement officers and the general public of danger. (Wikipedia, 2007).

Whistleblowing is not something that is new to today’s modern business world, however, it has grown so much that there is much more impact to all parties involved including the whistleblower. Depending on the magnitue of the misconduct being reported, it will not only change the company and the whistleblower, but also may change the society and how it views different businesses or business in general. Although whistleblowing is not new, the modern day attitude towards it has changed greatly. Before the 1960s, corporations had broad freedom in employee policies and could fire an employee at will, even if no reason existed. Employees of organizations were expected to be loyal to their organizations at all costs. Among the few exceptions to this rule were unionized employees, who could only be terminated for "just cause," and government employees because the courts upheld their constitutional right to criticize agency policies. In the private industry, few real procedures for airing grievances existed. Partly because of this lack of protection for whistleblowers, problems were often hidden rather than solved. Probably the most atrocious example was in asbestos manufacturing, where the link to lung disease was clearly established as early as 1924 but actively hidden by company officials from the public and other agencies. The first product liability lawsuit against an asbestos manufacturer was not successfully publicized until 1971.

In the 1970s, there were many memorable cases where potential whistleblowers decided not to act and ended up causing serious harm to employees and consumers alike, as well as the organizations as soon as the information went public that they had known of potential dangers.

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