Rescue teams had to use rubber dinghies to reach some people.
The hard part is doing it.
In each of the past four years, more employees have blown the whistle on wrongdoing by their employers. And the law has encouraged this growth: Both federal and state statutes offer new incentives and protections for whistleblowers. Still, reporting wrongdoing at work will never be easy.
As an attorney who specializes in whistleblower cases, I see this every day. It is not for the faint of heart.
So why do whistleblowers go ahead? Each client has personal reasons, of course. But on balance, they understand that the positive effects will — in the end — outweigh the negative effects. Here is the trade-off I ask my clients to consider: The five drawbacks of being a whistleblower — and the five rewards that can outweigh them.
Many prospective employers will value your integrity, but others may fear it. You can sleep at night. My clients are driven by personal honor. They are offended by the illegal actions of others and cannot simply turn away.
This is stressful for them; in some cases, they literally cannot sleep. Many whistleblowers already have reported problems internally — to a supervisor or compliance officer at their company, for example — and have been disappointed by the response.
Often the only way they can fulfill their duty to themselves is to contact a lawyer. And when they do the right thing, a burden lifts.
You may face retaliation. Indeed, many of my clients already have experienced retaliation by their employer. Punishment may be as simple — and brutal — as getting fired for speaking out.
Or it may be more subtle: Retaliating against a whistleblower is often illegal, but it happens anyway. And in some cases, employers keep retaliating even after a whistleblower no longer works at the company.
The important thing is to be prepared, and to react quickly; retaliation laws often require a fast legal response. By winning or settling a retaliation case against an employer, a whistleblower protects all future employees who report wrongdoing at that company.
The losing company usually will punish or remove the wrongdoers, and often will make it easier for honest employees to speak up. And its new policies — whether voluntary or court-ordered — may be adopted by peer companies, too.
Compare this to admitting defeat and slinking away: What will other honest employees conclude if you do that? Your finances and maybe your sanity will come under fire. Legal action is expensive and, until your case is resolved, you may need to shoulder some of the burden.
Can you last for a while with less money? At a dark moment, you will question your decision to be a whistleblower; almost everyone does. The law should make you whole — and you might get a financial windfall. Whistleblower protection laws have a common goal: To ensure that whistleblowers are not penalized for their good-faith report of wrongdoing, so that honest people will continue to speak up.
Some whistleblowers may even profit from their honesty: Again, it depends on circumstances — and perhaps on the state where you work — but whistleblowers have won rewards as high as several hundred million dollars.
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Lower numbers are typical, but some of my clients have won millions. Your relationships will be tested.
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