I have worked at my current company for about five years now and work has been getting worse. Especially, it is known that the higher ups are doing some unethical business activities and general society, media and authorities have a hunch about that. Much is invested to cover up the information and deflect the public's attention, but a surprise search by the police could end all doubts.

I am considering exposing those activities -- including confidential information -- since I feel that I have been set up for failure and will lose my job there anyway. When deciding whether to become a whistleblower (anonymously or otherwise), what should I be aware of before making the choice in regards to potential impact on my career?

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    Could it? Yes. Will it? Depends upon the circumstances. I was in a similar situation, and outing the unethical employer's illegal practices was one of the best moves I've made. I didn't realize just how miserable it was working there until after I was gone and working with a new employer who does things the proper way. If you want to minimize the risks, line up a new job first, then give your anonymous tip to the authorities. – aroth May 28 '14 at 14:02
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    @BarbaraJavaFL - because your resume says "I worked at, and was promoted by this highly unethical company". It's a short step to "this person must be unethical or incompetent to do that". – Telastyn May 28 '14 at 14:13
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    @BarbaraJavaFL Simply put you will be placing yourself at risk. Realistically this will be "mutually destructive". The question here is are we talking for the common good or payback. I would look at this as a suiciding my career to attempt to get justice "or cause maximum damage" based on what your intended goal are. I say that because it is probable this will effectively end your career. Now you have to decide if that is a price you are willing to pay. (you could come out of this unscathed as well, but I recommend assuming the worst probable outcome in making your choice) – RualStorge May 28 '14 at 17:21
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    I'm with @JoeStrazzere - you should be weighing up the consequences of exposing these unethical actions against the extent to which doing so is the right thing to do. Try to leave your personal desire for revenge out of it. – Carson63000 May 30 '14 at 4:05
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    Hey Barbara, and welcome to The Workplace! I think you have the core of a good question, but it is attracting a lot of close votes because some parts of it don't match the guidelines in our help center. I'm going to make an edit to try to make it a better fit, but if you think I missed the point feel free to edit yourself to fix it. Thanks in advance! – jmac May 30 '14 at 7:05

I have worked many years as a broadcast engineer, and thus have worked closely with many broadcast journalists over the years.

First, you should know that there is no such thing as an "anonymous" tip to the media. The media uses "Fact Checkers" that will contact you to verify the details of any story before they run it. What they will do, though, is "protect" your identity when reporting the story.

Fortunately, in the US at least, protecting the identity of a source is something that is a very serious matter, and is something journalists take great personal and professional pride in doing, so you have that going for you.

However, no system is perfect. Any details you share with the media may be traceable to you. For instance, if you are one of only 5 people with access to confidential information, and the media gets it, and 3 of the other 4 are the ones who are harmed by it coming to light, it's not going to take the world's greatest detective to figure out who was talking to the media. Also, if it results in a criminal investigation, a judge can order a reporter to divulge their source. Some reporters have gone to jail on contempt charges to protect sources, and some US states have journalist shield laws, but you're depending on a lot of things to keep your identity safe.

And finally, even if there were criminal convictions, you could still be subject to civil lawsuits from the company if you violated your employee agreement by disclosing confidential information.

In short, the only one who will "Win" in this conflict is the journalist who gets recognized, and possibly rewarded for their work. The company won't. You and your coworkers will be "tarnished" by association (How does that 4 year stint at "Enron" look on a resume today?), and you will have to be happy with knowing you were on the side of Right, because you will most certainly have consequences for "turning them in."

It all comes down to how much you are willing to risk. If you believe your company's activities are harming society, and that people need to know about these activities, and you're willing to risk all of the above for the Common Good, God bless you and go for it. If this is about "revenge," then I would just walk away and go find a place to be happy.

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    Anytime you decide to make a stand based on Moral and Ethical claims you should consider Wesley's last paragraph. Be it against an employer, peer, government, etc. Everything holds risk especially when you are attacking someone else's immoral or unethical behavior. It has the potential to cause damage proportional to the severity of the immoral activities, but it could easily cost you your career. On the other hand if you are doing this because you want to make a difference, you must decide is it worth the risk... That is something only you can decide. – RualStorge May 28 '14 at 17:12
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    Journalists can only shield their sources up to a point. If there was malfeasance at the company's in the Podunk office and there are only three employees there, it probably won't take long from mining investigative stories and/or court papers for details to work out who among the three was the whistle blower. Sometimes, the best protection may actually to step out of the shadows, because any retaliation against the whistle blower automatically becomes a high profile event. – Vietnhi Phuvan May 29 '14 at 11:35

You need to investigate what kind of "Whistleblower" laws there are in your area. Expect to be slandered publicly though and your future employment prospects will be limited by this.

That being said, you have to decide if you want to stand on this moral ground. If you can get to the face to face part of a future interview you can indicate that the nature of the violations was severe and that you did not lightly reveal their privileged information.

You may want to have a new position lined up in advance.

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  • Also, you are never truly anonymous today. If someone wants to find the source of your leaks they probably will. – Bill Leeper May 28 '14 at 16:36
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    I would slightly adjust that to "If someone wants to find anything they probably will" (There is nothing that cannot be compromised, there are only things that would take more effort than people are motivated enough to provide.) – RualStorge May 28 '14 at 17:27

I was a whistleblower against my employer, a very well known utility company. I can say that the cost of whistle blowing was steep to me. It cost me my career at the company, but the cost of my career at the company was just a down payment for everything that came afterwards. So consider yourself warned:

Prior to blowing the whistle I read the Employee Handbook that had a page dedicated to corporate espionage. It specifically stated no retaliation would take place to anyone exposing such activity and those involve would immediately be terminated.

I refused to participate in unethical practices, I held a very lucrative position but was focused on my integrity. Of course I was harshly retaliated against, spent 5 years fighting a large corporation but refused to allow them to wear me down. How I lasted I'll never know.

We made it to court. In the end I lost my health, my career, my friends, my savings...almost everything, the one thing I did not lose was my integrity. It was a living hell!

I've shared the ugly details with friends of mine that are attorneys and they all say I should write a book. My mother was there for me throughout the journey. She once said "Had you known what was going to happen, I'm sure you would not have done what you did." I replied "If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing because you can't put a price tag on your integrity."

I would like to add that as a result of my blowing the whistle and filing numerous EEOC complaints, others rightfully lost their jobs, demotions took place, etc. The company continues to pay me today though it's nowhere near what I made.

Since then I've also blown the whistle on a nursing home where many patients were being abused resulting in the state shutting them down and on a dentist sexually abusing patients resulting in temporary loss of license and a permanent black mark on the internet.

I'm a pro!

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  • this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape? – gnat Aug 15 '14 at 5:54
  • You are not answering the question. – user8036 Aug 15 '14 at 7:09

The simplest thing I can come up is: Leave.

You're obviously troubled by the practices in your company and chances are they aren't going to change any time soon, likely not until things blow up. You don't want to be there when they do blow up.

Consult a lawyer before you leave. Chances are your contracts prevent you from tipping of the press (confidentiality etc) but these contracts most likely can't prevent you from tipping of the authorities (unless you work for the authorities, ask Edward Snowden). Chances are also that you can't take documentation with you, it belongs to the company, and unless they are doing really illegal stuff (shipping drugs?) they can sue you for either disclosing it or taking it in your possession.

I'm not a lawyer myself, this is not legal advice :)

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    In point of fact: Edward Snowden did not work for the authorities. He worked for the NSA. The "Authorities" are the Justice Department (FBI, Attorney General's office, US Marshals). The NSA is a surveillance and intelligence agency with no authority to prosecute. – Wesley Long May 30 '14 at 19:26
  • I was using the word in a much broader, big brother kind of way :) – user19202 Jun 2 '14 at 13:35

Before I would take any actions in a case like this, the very first thing I would do is consult a lawyer. It is possible that some actions could cause you to lose your job, it is possible that exposing some wrong-doing would end up with you being arrested as an accomplice to the illegality. It is possible that there are ways of whistle-blowing that are less risky legally.

You need a lawyer's advice to protect yourself before taking any action. You need this advice even if you decide it isn't worth the risk as you are caught up in a place where illegal activities are happening and you need to know what you need to do to avoid the possibility of being arrested. Senior people in companies like this are often very good at arranging things so that less senior people are the ones who are arrested if the illegalities come to light. The cost of a lawyer consultation may well be the best money you ever spent if it keeps you out of jail in a situation like this.

Consequences of being a whistle-blower could range from none to loss of job, prison time, or loss of ability to work anywhere in your profession. Without more details it is hard to assess the risk of those consequences. Nor can we determine if you should risk the consequences.

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