Is Whistleblowing a Right, or an Obligation, or is it INSANE to Whistleblow? Is Refusing to do Good to be “Whistleblown”? Can Anyone Prevent Someone do Denounce Crime?

René Char said:  “If you come to this world to cause no trouble, then you dont deserve any patience nor appreciation”.  René Char

I’ve digged into the litterature of Whistleblowing since some time. I’ve read stories of people who have had their life crushed because they considered it their responsibility to warn of insane practices.

Alford, C. Fred  wrote a very interesting book on Whistleblowers, see Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power. Cornell University Press

On tying Whistleblower on On Wikipedia you’ll find a 10 pages of interesting information, and following up on the references, history and talk section of the article is even more interesting.

My real question is an ethical one:

What is our responsability as Human beings when we don’t whistleblow unacceptable situations?

Can any law, ruling, agreement prevent is to exercise our responsability to denounce such inacceptable situations?

In what situations would it be ethically justified NOT to whistleblow?

Gunter Pauli, in his blog about “Positive Whistleblowing” , offers some answers. He dreams of positive whistleblowers, an army of them, who expose the great opportunities of shifting mindsets from the negative to the unconditional positve, scanning for opportunities to transform bad into good, whilst ending better off in the process.

What’s your intake on that?

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About charlesvanderhaegen

I am a grandfather of an immensely inspiring family, thanks to the most incredible wife. To satisfy my family's needs, I was for 30 years business entrepreneur, roller coasting between success and failure. 14 years ago I was forced to stop and reflect. I dug into theory and discovered the World out there, that my involvement in Business had kept hidden to me. I feared that I will not escape remaining amidst my trans-disciplinary quest forever, bouncing back and forth from action to theory, always puzzled by Europe's apparent incapacity to free itself from its Institutional/Technological Lock-ins. My horizon opened up when Gunter Pauly, my intimate friend of 35 years, asked me to join him and take charge ZERI's development in Europe.
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7 Responses to Is Whistleblowing a Right, or an Obligation, or is it INSANE to Whistleblow? Is Refusing to do Good to be “Whistleblown”? Can Anyone Prevent Someone do Denounce Crime?

  1. Sarah says:

    Hi there – I have used this blog as part of an assignment for my business ethics paper – here is my response. Thanks

    This blog address’s two important ethical questions around the ethical subject of whistle blowing. The author has advised that when searching this subject on Wikipedia we will find a lot of valuable information about this subject; however the information does fail to answer the above ethical questions asked by the author. An article I have found to be useful in answering the questions in this blog is written by Michael Davis which is called ‘Some paradoxes of whistleblowing’.

    The first question asked is what is our responsibility as human beings when we don’t whistle blow unacceptable situations? As human beings we have our own morals and idea’s on what is morally right or wrong. When put in difficult situations we rely on our morals to make the right decision.

    Whistle blowing is when we report or make allegations of serious wrongdoing whether it is internally within the workplace or externally. Internal whistle blowing is when we report wrongdoings of an employee to higher management which can be good for the company as it helps the company identify wrong doing by their employees. ‘External whistle blowing is when we disclose serious wrongdoing to the media and external authorities’. (Open Polytechnic, 2012, M2, p.16). External whistleblowing may leave the company worse off and exposed.

    As an employee of a company it is expected that we show loyalty to a company so external whistle blowing is not regarded highly. However, Ronald Duska claims that we should only expect loyalty from people who we have a close relationship with, such as friends and family. He feels that a company or an employer is not someone we should show loyalty to, as an employer does not show loyalty to its employees. He also says that employees who feel that their employer shows loyalty to them are misguided and often let down. (Duska, R)

    Going back to the original question, do we need to be responsible if we do not whistle blow in unacceptable situations? As stated above we are expected to show loyalty to our employers which would entail not disclosing information about any serious wrongdoing. However as per Duska’s claims above, an employer does not show loyalty to their employees, so why should an employee have an obligation of loyalty?

    As individuals, when faced with the situation where we have the potential to whistle blow, we need to use our own morals and not use an obligation of loyalty as a way out. After all, if other innocent people get hurt from our choice of keeping quiet, we have to live with the outcomes also.

    In the article some paradoxes of whistleblowing, Davis identifies the three paradoxes of whistleblowing. The first paradox is the ‘paradox of burden’ which is the burden imposed on the whistle blower. When an individual ‘blows the whistle’ they experience hostility from their employer and other employees and in most cases have to resign from their workplace.

    The second paradox is the ‘paradox of missing harm’ which is when there is no real danger from the wrongdoing so it is not worthwhile for the employee to blow the whistle. There must be serious harm in order to justify whistle blowing. The third paradox is the ‘paradox of failure’ which is when by whistleblowing; the individual fails to prevent harm. If the whistleblower is unable to prevent harm, there is no point in blowing the whistle.

    These three paradoxes that are indentified by Davis are important when answering our first question. There will be the burden to the whistle blower so they will need to consider this before they do blow the whistle. The individual will also need to consider the paradox of failure. If they are not able to prevent harm, then it may not be worth whistleblowing.

    The second question identified in this blog is in what situations would it be ethically justified NOT to whistleblow? As with question one, this question does relate to Davis’s three paradoxes of whistleblowing, especially the paradox of failure. If by blowing the whistle you will not be preventing harm to innocent people, there would be no point in whistle blowing. Therefore it would be considered unethical to blow the whistle on someone.
    An example of this would be an accountant blowing the whistle on a company who have committed tax fraud. In this case, blowing the whistle would only benefit Inland Revenue. The public would not be directly affected by this so it would be pointless to blow the whistle in this case.
    This question can also be answered by looking at different ethical theories such as the Utilitarianism approach. Under this theory you would need to evaluate which action will produce the least harm compared with all available alternative actions. You would also need to consider the interests of all affected. This is done by identifying the different courses of action and then assessing the consequences for each action. If by whistleblowing you would cause more harm than good, it would be considered ethically wrong to blow the whistle under this theory.

    Under the Kantian moral theory ‘you would need to indentify the principle underlying each option for action and test them according to the “universal law” and “treat people as ends” criteria’. (Open Polytechnic, 2012, M2, p.19). This theory holds that the rightness of wrongness of an action is determined by the principle behind an action, not by the consequences of the action (Utilitarianism). The principle is tested against the universal law rule.
    Based on both of the questions discussed, I would conclude that every situation can lead to varying courses of action and sometimes the situation may not be black and white. Before an individual blows the whistle, whether on an employer, employee or somebody else, they will need to evaluate each course of action and the consequences from speaking out. Davis’s three paradoxes are crucial to making this situation and they should be seriously considered before you blow the whistle.

  2. Romy Dane says:

    I wasn’t the only one who thought your blog was perfect to use as part of my assignment for business ethics. My response is below. thanks

    I personally believe it is our responsibility as a human being to behave morally right. Our behavior as human beings should include honesty, compassion, courage and justice. As a human being it is our responsibility to expose unacceptable situations and report misconduct especially when these situations are going to harm people and society. We ought to blow the whistle as our moral obligation is to prevent any harm.
    Under the utilitarian ethical theory, I think the utilitarian justifies whistleblowing as long as the consequence maximizes happiness and minimizes the harm. It might not maximize the happiness of the individuals who are blowing the whistle but it surely maximizes the happiness of those who are being protected from the harm.
    However, this is easier said than done. Many, if not most, whistleblowers open themselves up to retaliation from their employers and even from their work colleagues. By being whistle-blowers they risk losing their jobs and they might not be able to find new employment, as the quality every employer seeks and values is loyalty to the employer, whether right or wrong. No employer will want a “disloyal” employee, whatever their motives were. Also, the whistle-blowers are not the only ones affected but also their families can suffer.
    On the title of your blog, one of your questions is: Is it insane to whistle-blow? Well, I might say to you, yes, it is insane to whistle-blow because of the reasons above. However, I might ask you another question: is it worth to put your own career and future at risk just to do the right thing? I assume many people including myself would say yes if it will prevent harm to others. So in reality, some whistle-blowers are not insane, they are individuals with extreme courage. I say some instead of all as I need to first consider their motives before deciding if they are acting courageously and morally by sharing knowledge of misconduct for the benefit of others or they are acting disloyal to the organization just to cause harm because of a vendetta and revenge.
    Regarding your second question, at present I don’t believe there are laws that will prevent us from exposing mismanagement, corruption, misconduct or wrongdoings. On the contrary, there are laws that have been passed to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation. Most developed countries have laws in place to protect whistle-blowers but the extent of the protection varies in different countries. For example in the UK, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 provides a framework of legal protection for individuals who disclose information so as to expose malpractice and matters of similar concern, in Australia ,Whistleblowers Australia, is an association for those who have exposed corruption or any form of malpractice, especially if they were then hindered or abused, in the United States, “in recent years, the federal government has implemented laws that increase the number of protections available to whistle-blowers. Most of these laws prohibit retaliation against employees who are acting in good faith when they blow the whistle on an employer. They also offer compensation for back pay or reinstatement for employees who have been terminated because of their whistleblowing”.
    http://www.umlawcampaign.com/2012/12/preventing-retaliation-for-whistleblowing/
    However, who would want to go back to the workplace that you have blown the whistle on? The same place that fired you for doing the right thing blowing the whistle. Even if the individuals you have blown the whistle on have been fired, do you think management would ever trust you? Would your work colleagues see you the same way or would they just see you as the “disloyal” employee?
    Now, in regards to your last question about when it would be ethically justified not to whistle blow. Well, firstly you might like to clarify if it refers to not to whistle blow internally or externally?
    There are a couple of ways to whistle-blow; internal whistle blowing, where an employee brings to light wrongdoings by colleagues or management to higher management within the company for this to be corrected, which I believe is healthy for a company as it is the company’s best interest to find out of any harm within the organization and fix it; and external whistleblowing on the other hand it could cause harm to the company as the wrongdoing or illegal activities are exposed to the public and this could damage the reputation of the organization. Therefore, it would be ethically justified not to whistle blow externally if the organizations have policies regarding whistleblowing as the last thing companies want is for employees to go out there and tell the public of wrongdoings within the organization before they have been given the chance to address their concerns and investigate the allegations and take corrective action or at least been made aware of the problem. Now, it would be ethically justified not to whistle-blow internally if the potential whistle-blower doesn’t have enough evidence about any wrongdoing and might be jumping to conclusions. In this situation, he/she might want to reflect on what made her/him think of any wrongdoing , they might want to also talk directly to the person they suspect is acting ethically wrong without making any accusations.

  3. Karen says:

    Hi Charles. My Business Ethics paper requires me to respond to a blog as part of my assessment.

    Firstly, what is our responsibility as human beings when we don’t Whistleblow unacceptable situations? This is where we must look at our own basic Moral beliefs and what is correct human conduct in the given situation. We should be ethically bound by our own Moral obligations to ‘do the right thing’.

    Whistleblowing involves ‘allegations of serious wrongdoings’, not just minor work problems. (Open Polytechnic, 2013) There are two forms of Whistleblowing. Internal Whistleblowing is when the employee takes their concerns to an immediate supervisor or another senior person at their workplace. External Whistleblowing is the next step – disclosing the serious wrong doings to the Media or external authorities. How though does someone get to this ‘drastic measure’? First I feel they need to have reported the issue internally. Some companies do encourage employees to come forward with critical disclosures by having a climate conducive to responsible Whistleblowing. If an organisation has the opportunity to become aware of and discuss the grievance, there should certainly be the opportunity for a swift resolution and a positive outcome for both the company and the Whistleblower.

    If all internal avenues have been exhausted and the organisation is not prepared to deal with the problem, a Whistleblower is then faced with either remaining quiet, perhaps resigning from the company, or ‘Blowing the Whistle’ externally.

    However, there can be many undesirable consequences to Whistleblowing. These include attempts to discredit the Whistleblower, retaliation against them and demotion. They also have to deal with contradictory emotions and fears. Disloyalty will be conflicting with obligation. Outrage that there are serious issues will combine with the frustration that no one wants to listen. By Whistleblowing ‘the harsh truth is that this represents a failure on everybody’s part’. (Whistleblowers: Who’s the real Bad Guy?)

    So is it our responsibility to Whistleblow? Are we being disloyal? Surely if there is immense potential harm to others if we don’t Whistleblow, we are morally justified in doing so?

    If we look at the Theory of Virtue Ethics where the emphasis is placed on ones character and the virtues of that Character, we can evaluate the problem and act based on our Virtues and ‘do the right thing’ when we have a moral decision to make. Virtues include courage, generosity, truthfulness and loyalty. A Virtue Ethicist will determine all the Virtues that are relevant and then evaluate the action options based on whether the actions express Virtues or vices. Conflicting Virtues will obviously come into play, however these must be weighed up. A Virtue ethicist must decide if it is a morally good action to blow the whistle in a particular situation. This will require courage, as standing up for your principles and Whistleblowing can be an extremely punishing experience. The action that best expresses Virtue will be chosen. (Open Polytechnic, 2013)

    Therefore when faced with this ethical dilemma, if all avenues have been exhausted and there is the potential for serious consequences if someone did not act, then I feel that YES, it is our responsibility to Whistleblow to stop potential wrongdoing or harm.

    I will now discuss another question you raise; ‘In what situations would it be ethically justified not to Whistleblow?’ In Michael Davis’ article on Whistleblowing he writes “What makes Whistleblowing morally problematic, if anything does, is this high-minded but unexcused misuse of one’s position in a generally law-abiding, morally decent organisation, an organisation the prima facie deserves the whistleblower’s loyalty”. (Open Polytechnic, 2013) But is misuse of position and employee loyalty enough to justify not blowing the whistle on a potentially harmful situation?

    This raises another question. Do we have an obligation of loyalty to the Company we are employed by? Ronald Duska feels that we do not have loyalty obligations to the company we work for as companies do not have the Moral status of Loyalty. There is not the ‘special relationship’ that exists as there is between a husband and wife, or special friends. There is not the ‘binding – together’ for support and mutual fulfillment. The primary function of a company is to make a profit. At the end of the day Loyalty does not bind either the employee or employer together; employers can make staff cut backs and employees can resign. (Open Polytechnic, 2013)

    I feel that loyalty and misuse of position is not a situation to justify not Whistleblowing, however when using the ethical theory Utilitarianism, we do have the potential to justify this. This theory’s focus is to promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people and that the course of action taken will produce more good (or less harm) than any of the available alternatives for that situation. (Open Polytechnic, 2013)
    Utilitarianism has a 3-step method when deciding the morally right course of action. We first identify what options are available to us. Next, we determine all of the foreseeable benefits and also any harm that would result from each course of action for all parties affected. Finally, we choose the course of action that provides the greatest benefits for the greatest number of people. (Counting Consequences)
    Therefore under this Theory when deciding not to Whistleblow, we must ensure that the benefits of ‘remaining quiet’ will produce the greatest good (or least harm) for the greatest number of people. If there is no physical or emotional harm to yourself and others or any threat to the public’s best interest, then you would be ethically justified not to Whistleblow. An internal Whistleblowing example would be seeing a fellow employee stealing bottles of milk from the staff room. Remaining quiet would produce ‘least harm’ for the offender rather than ‘greater good’ for you or the Manager or the company. Possible consequences for the minority would out weigh the benefits to the company of knowing of the incident.

    In any Whistleblowing situation there will always be many factors to weigh up as you will possibly be putting your future employment and career at risk, and also that of the company you work for.

    References

    Counting Consequences – The Utilitarian Approach to Ethics downloaded from:
    http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v2n1/calculating.html
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2013). 71 203 Business Ethics. .
    Learning Guide (Modules 1-4). Lower Hutt, New Zealand: Author.
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2013). 71 203 Business Ethics. .
    (Readings 2.2 and 2.3) Lower Hutt, New Zealand: Author.

    Whistleblowers: Who’s the real Bad Guy? downloaded from:
    http://ethics.csc.ncsu.deu/old/12_00/basics/whistle/rst/bad_guy.html

  4. Britte says:

    It seems that I am not the only and last person that found your questioning around whistleblowing relevant for a business ethic assignment. I will be using reference to the open polytechnic business ethic material, Michael Davis readings on “some paradoxes of whistleblowing” and some external website research material to answer your questions according to my understanding.
    Davis states that whistle-blowers are not a mere individual from society but rather someone that is an employee of an organization that has access to information that they are entrusted with when performing their duty. Internal whistleblowing is when an employee reports alleged wrongdoing to management (direct supervisor) within the organization. External whistleblowing is when serious wrongdoing, normally information that the company would not want to be made public or known to anyone is reported through whistleblowing procedure or anonymous online facility.
    Your question is whether whistleblowing is a morally ethical to better our community as a whole and ensure the least harm to everyone and whether it is appropriate to blow the whistle or not as an obligation or right as rational human beings.
    Your first question regarding” what is our responsibility as human beings” I would say that utilitarianism looks at which option for action will help produce the greatest amount of happiness and least harm by identifying the likely good or bad consequences of those affected, not just the whistleblower but also the company and the society as a whole. Using the example of an accountant working for a dental surgery that submits false claims to ACC, the question would be for the accountant to decide whether she has an obligation to say something or keep quiet. The accountant contractual agreement with the company for her role would be to ensure proper accounting procedures is followed according to the financial laws of New Zealand. She would be required to make sure that any discrepancies is further investigated and reported to management (internal whistleblowing). Ronald Duska states that she has no loyal obligation to her employer as she cannot have a personal relationship with an entity. Ronald and Kantian moral theory states that obligation of loyalty cannot be willed into a universal law for people to act on, unless it is part of their contractual agreement.
    Kantianism sees personal identity as fundamental, it is part of us that can rationally will actions and make autonomous choices. Keeping quiet would result in the fraudulent action continuing causing harm to the company and on our right to privacy and being protected from harm. The doctor would be using people’s personal information without their consent to submit false claims and get paid for service not provided. The accountant’s moral duty for justice would require her to firstly use all internal resources to blow the whistle and ensure further investigation is prompted. If this does not bring about any internal action her duty would be to blow the whistle externally. She can report her allegations and suspicions anonymously, if desired, through the New Zealand Whistleblowing website (http://whistleblowers.co.nz/).
    With regard to your second question I do not believe that there is any law or ruling that can prevent you from exercising your freedom of speech nor to act on your rational as a human being of what you consider to be wrong or right. New Zealand legislation “Protected Disclosure Act 2000” which came into force on the 01 January 2011, main purpose is to facilitate the disclosure and investigation of “serious wrongdoing” and provides protection to employees from liability or unfavourable treatment resulting from such disclosures (http://www.ktc.co.nz/File/WHISTLE.PDF). I still believe a lot of companies have not change their perception regarding whistleblowers as being disloyal resulting in non-favourable treatment. The statistical data from Association of Corporate Counsel states that “During 2012 a total of 2,787 whistleblower complaints, the largest number to date, were filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), more than half (1,665) of these determinations were complaint dismissals, while another 592 cases were settled and a total of 565 charges were withdrawn”
    I think it is important for businesses to encourage transformational leadership, where diversity is positively promoted by management giving them a competitive advantage through diverse employment (race, gender, background, knowledge and skills) to drive a positive culture towards diversity and internal whistleblowing. Companies can offer a financial incentive for promoting internal whistleblowing but I believe people should be blowing the whistle for wanting to do the right thing and not as a means to an end (financial benefit). This could create the wrong company culture and be very costly, as employees will no longer be focussed on being self-managed, committed, productive employees and performing their role to produce the most benefit/profit for the company, but rather obtain information under false pretences.
    Your third question related to “in what situations would it be ethically justified NOT to whistleblow” I would look at the three paradoxes of whistleblowing identified by Michael Davis. The three paradoxes is the paradox of (1) burden, (2) – missing harm” and (3) – failure”. The 1st paradox of burden is experience by whistleblowers when acting in good faith and then end up losing their jobs, income, reputation, ect. The 2nd paradox “the paradox of missing harm” is when morally it is acceptable not to blow the whistle when there is no real danger or harm (physically, financial, psychological) from the wrongdoing, so it is not worthwhile for the employee to blow the whistle. We can also argue in the case of the “paradox of failure” where the whistleblower without a doubt believes that blowing the whistle would not prevent the harm or change the current practice or situation, it is not morally wrong to not blow the whistle.
    In closing I would argue that people have a moral duty to themself to prevent harm and to produce the greatest amount of happiness for their society (duty of justice). To use all the resources provided to us, including our own rational as humans to identify the principle underlying each option for action and test them according to the universal law and treat people as ends unto themselves by telling the truth, and not as a means to an end.

  5. Sonny says:

    Hi Charles, I am responding to your blog as a part of my business Ethics assignment. My response is below. Thank you

    Loyalty and whistle blowing are the two factors that go hand in hand with the above topic. Whistle blowing has been and will always be a key element in balancing ethical conduct within businesses. Today’s society has evolved over time though social evolution to command a certain acceptable standard. When an ethical misconduct is identified, then we have to make the conscious decision to blowing the whistle to prevent the harm that it may or is causing.
    In the real practicality of this world, many people do have the misconception that whistle blowing could be a disguised form of disloyal behavior. Due to this misconception, a lot of whistle blowers face negative and hostile reactions to their actions. Unless contractually obligated to, no employee is obligated to being loyal to their company when it comes to whistle-blowing. “Loyalty has a place where there is a sense of emotion involved beyond self-interest, i.e. the relationship between a husband to a wife, child to a parent or between friends, etc.” – Duska, R. F. (1990). Furthermore, I concur with Ronal Duska’s thoughts that the relationship between an employee and the company is purely contractual and is a means to an end which is making profit for the company and getting paid for the services provided by the employee. Most companies, when in strife or in times loss or reduced profit, would with no hesitation and without consideration of any form of loyalty from its part, let go of the staff to survive and become profitable again. It would not consider the loyalty of the employee over the tenure of his/her employment as it uses the employees as a means to an end. So, why should an employee should get emotional or have ethical doubts about whistle-blowing when the employee has a higher duty to society?
    So in response to the author’s first question that the author raises – “What is our responsibility as Human beings when we don’t whistle blow unacceptable situations?”, Being quiet about these situations is equally as harmful as condoning the ethically unacceptable activity to carry on. Applying the Kantian moral theory to the above situation, where such an action cannot be willed as a universal law, it would be ethically incorrect when we don’t whistle blow unacceptable situations. The freedom of speech and the power of free information is what justifies whistle-blowing. Even though it may be considered ironic to justify doing something that would socially be considered a good deed. Usually a justification is required when the action taken is considered to be wrongful and requires an explanation to be accepted. In the case of whistle-blowing the whole reason someone would blow the whistle is to stand up against the wrong doing and to do the right thing. Moreover, there could also be a professional responsibility to whistle blow as it is the contractual duty and responsibility of the employee to ensure their area of control is free from fraudulent or unacceptable activity. So in conclusion, to stay quiet over a known activity that is in the context of whistle blowing is equally wrong. Not doing the right thing and allowing it to be carried out is equally as wrong as being involved in the wrong doing yourself as you are withholding information that can prevent harm to the people the activity affects. Margaret Heffernan, in her blog about “Myths and Realities of Whistle-blowing” also writes along the same lines “Instead of a gagging clause, the NHS and any self-respecting institution should introduce a ‘responsibility to inform’. When you see something wrong and say nothing, you’re complicit. Willful blindness is no excuse in the law and there’s no reason it should let any of us off the hook.”
    The next question the author raises is “Can any law, ruling, agreement prevent us to exercise our responsibility to denounce such unacceptable situations?” In my opinion, an agreement of an illegal activity cannot be accepted as a legal binding agreement in the court of law due to the illegal nature and socially unacceptable characteristics of the activity. Similarly, I believe if we see the above question in a comparable context where if a law, ruling or agreement was made with employees to prevent exercising our responsibility to denounce any unacceptable situation, then it should not be upheld by the legal system as it would be a moral and ethical injustice to support such a biased and possible illegal agreement.
    If we analyze the above situation “If we apply the Utilitarianism approach to this question, then the main point here that would help us to arrive at a conclusion is that which option would help produce the greatest amount of happiness and least harm. To apply utilitarianism, we must identify the options for action and identify the likely good and bad consequences on those affected. Then we must choose the action that seems most likely to maximize happiness and minimize suffering, considering equally the interests of all affected.” – The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2013, Business Ethics, Learning Guide, Module 2.
    Ultimately a social perception of right and wrong stems from many factors such as personal characteristics, social and ethnic back ground, childhood upbringing etc. that is one of the main reason to use ethical theories so that most of the ethical decisions even out any biased outcomes due to these factors.
    I do have to however acknowledge that there is also the flip side of the coin where the loyalty has been plagued by corruption by businesses to silence the whistle blowers. There may be instances where loyalty does not even take any part in the equation but instead be a mix of disgruntled employees or employees with ulterior motives to gain financial benefit from blackmailing the companies with false public humiliation through the label of whistle blowing. In such cases, Confidentiality agreements and other legal contracts may be used to discourage false pretenses of whistle blowing, but without overpowering the right for legitimate and concerned employees to speak up when the company is clearly breaching the ethical standards or is acting illegally in any way which would cause harm to society.
    REFERENCES:

    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 2013, Business Ethics, Learning Guide, Module 2, p. 18
    Duska, R. F. (1990). Whistle-blowing and employee loyalty. In J.R.Desjardins & J.J McCall(Eds.), Contemporary issues in Business ethics (2nd ed., pp. 142-147).Belmont CA:Wadsworth.
    Margaret Heffernan, 05/03/2013, Myths and Realities of Whistle-blowing, Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/margaret-heffernan-/myth-and-realities-of-whi_b_2809588.html

  6. Alana says:

    I am responding to this blog as a part of a Business Ethics paper for the Open Polytechnic.

    Whistleblowing can be internal or external. Internal whistleblowing “is when somebody reports or makes allegations of serious wrong doing on the part of somebody within the same company to higher management”.( Open Polytechnic,2013, M2, p. 16 ). Internal whistle blowing is generally in the company’s best interests. They can keep the allegations within the company and have the opportunity to take action and resolve them without any public knowledge. External whistleblowing “relates to disclosure about company activities or government activities to the media or external authorities” (Open Polytechnic, 2013, M2, p. 16). External whistle blowing is not in the company’s best interests as it can causes serious damage to the company’s reputation and can end up costing the company.
    In the title the author asks ‘is whistle blowing a right, or an obligation, or is it insane to whistle blow”. I think that it is a right to honestly report or ‘whistle blow’ unacceptable behaviour. Why should we live with the guilt of knowing unethical or unacceptable behaviour is happening in the work place? Most of the time it is because we are too scared to stand up and report the problem and have the fear of being dismissed, harassed or not taken seriously. Organisations should be encouraging employees to speak up and report any unethical and unacceptable behaviour. By encouraging this, the organisation and the employee will benefit as they will be taking immediate action to resolve the issues before they get out of hand and become public knowledge. It will prove to the employees that they take them seriously and that unethical and unacceptable behaviour is not tolerated in the workplace.
    Virtue ethics “sees morality in terms of developing and expressing excellent traits of character in action” (Open Polytechnic, 2013, M1, p. 35). Would it be considered morally acceptable to be dishonest, unfair and cowardice? For an employee to remain silent and not whistle blow they could be doing the above vices. For a person to stand up and blow the whistle they would be showing honesty, responsibility, prudence and courage. If the employee was to use virtue ethics they would have to determine all the virtues and vices that are relevant to them blowing the whistle and then evaluate the actions that they can take.
    This is compared to the utilitarianism theory which is about selecting the option that will have the greatest amount of happiness and least harm. The whistle blower would have to identify the options for action and then identify what would be the positive and negative consequences of each of them. Then out of those actions the one that has the greatest amount of happiness and least amount of suffering is the action to choose. Kantian model theory is about the principle behind the action. With the Kantian model the whistle blower would need to identify the principle behind each action and then test them.

    The author also asks ‘what is our responsibility as human beings if we don’t whistle blow unacceptable situations’.
    Everyone has their own morals and beliefs and what one person might find unacceptable and unethical can be different to another person. Each person has to make the decision themselves if they wish to blow the whistle or keep the information and allegations to themselves. Keeping in mind that they have a responsibility to themselves, their co- workers and to the wider community to do what they think is morally right. If an employee chooses to not whistle blow they will have to live with the guilt and consequences of not speaking up for example harm to an innocent party.
    Do employees have a responsibility to organisations to be loyal and not whistle blow? According to Duska (1990), “one does not have an obligation of loyalty to a company…because companies are not the kind of things what are proper objects of loyalty”. Duska also says that “to think we owe a company or corporation loyalty requires us to think of that company as a person or as a group with a goal of human enrichment”.
    ‘In what situations would it be ethically justified NOT to whistle blow?’ Michael Davis three paradoxes of whistle blowing includes burden, harm and failure. In particular the paradox of harm covers harm such as financial, physical and psychological. The whistle blower generally cannot prevent much harm but if by blowing the whistle causes more harm for innocent parties then this would be unethical and can be considered the wrong thing to do.
    Overall, I think that it is the potential whistle blowers right to internally blow the whistle if there is unethical and unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. Unethical and unacceptable behaviour should not be tolerated in the workplace and I think that it is the organisations responsibility to encourage the employee to not be afraid to speak up so that the situation can get resolved. However the whistle blower will have to weigh up their option as to which ethical theory point of view that they could use to make their decision if they should whistle blow and should consider the three paradoxes before making any immediate allegations.

    References:
    Davis, M. (1996). Some paradoxes of whistleblowing. Business and Professional Ethics Journal, 15(1), 13-19.
    Duska, R.F. (1990). Whistleblowing and employee loyalty. In J.R.Desjardins & J.J. McCall (Eds.). Contemporary issues in business ethics (2nd ed., pp.142-1470. Belmont CA: Wadsworth
    The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. (2013). 71203 Business Ethics. Lower Hutt: New Zealand

  7. Claudette says:

    Is whistle blowing a right or an obligation?
    When investigating a definition for whistle blowing (https://www.gov.uk/whistleblowing), I will be focusing on a strong article by Michael Davis, “Some paradoxes of whistle blowing”.
    Whether or not whistle blowing is right or not can be seen in many different perspectives (the paradox of burden), for instance an individual with the ethical stance of a utilitarian will view the situation in the light of which action would cause the least harm and most happiness. If the utilitarian suspected a co-worker of stealing money and spoke out about the situation, only the thief and possibly their family would be harmed, there would be more happiness within the business as the continuation of the theft could have caused stress within the company if management were vocal about their concerns and treated employees with suspicion. An individual with a Kantian ethical stance would view the same situation but consider whether their actions would be respectful to humankind, and most likely become a whistle blower. When considering virtue ethics theory stance they would most likely speak out, showing their righteousness of character and being a courageous, good human being. And moral rights ethics may draw on their belief in freedom of speech and fair trial, and would most likely speak out.
    When considering whether or not there is any obligation we should consider who the obligation is to, and whether there is any at all?
    Firstly, when considering the obligation to the organisation, we must consider what an obligation is? An obligation in the plain sense of the word could include a promise, contract or an agreement with stipulated actions for non compliance. I would like to extend the question of obligation to that of loyalty owed to the business, because in many instances there is a correlation between the “obligation”, seemingly owed or not owed and “loyalty”.
    Do employees have a duty to be loyal to employees? Loyalty can be defined by Wikipedia.org as faithfulness or devotion to a person, group or cause, and after reading an article by Roland Duska, I agree with his arguments about whistle blowers. Stating that the employee has no added obligation of loyalty, then they are contracted to do. There is no unique relationship between the organisation and the employee. People are often misleading into having unrealistic expectations, feelings and personification towards this relationship. Which realistically is a simple trade off of skills/labour and a wage, there is no emotional bond. Organisations can source cheaper labour, like outsourcing to reduce costs and increase profits. This is their primary objective; the organisation is a commercial self interested entity. Whistle blowers should be seen as courageous and protected but in many real life situations they are persecuted and exposed as troublemakers, as in the view of James Roche.
    Does the whistle blower have a greater obligation or any loyalty to expose wrongdoing to society, friends, neighbours and the public? (Paradox of missing harm) When considering the definitions of loyalty and obligations I believe the there must be a greater bond with society then to any business, but even in terms of non profit organisations, the decision whether or not to whistle blow will depend on the individuals ethical beliefs, and considerations of consequences of unsavoury actions, and preventing danger and wrongdoing.
    Is it insane to whistle blow?
    Many whistle blowers have mixed outcomes after taking action. (The paradox of failure). (http://press.anu.edu.au//anzsog/whistleblowing/html/frames.php) In one case study, the internal whistle blower caused an internal investigation and the successful prosecution of wrongdoers. However, the whistle blower is now in a low key job and has lost all interest in their career, now focusing on their home life and out of work activities. The individual is proud to have spoken out, but wishes to forget the experience. The outcome for the organisation was good, workplace improvements occurred. But the outcomes for the whistle blower were mixed. There was no obvious harm to the whistle blower. In a Survey by the Australian National University, employees are more likely to whistle blow, if they are confident that action will be taken. Whistle blowers do have rights and protection. (www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/what-we-do/protecting-your-rights/protected-disclosures-whistle-blowing ). Positive outcomes for whistle blowers come about when, they are kept informed about the case, case workers and managers handle the case professionally, and the end results avoid conflict. Seventy percent of whistle blowers were treated the same, as before the whistle blowing by management and their co-workers. Showing there can be positive outcomes.
    Even though whistle blowers were treated unfavourably, most whistle blowers would whistle blow again. Some of the unfavourable treatment included intimidation, harassment and humiliating work. There are other negative impacts like stress, anxiety and workplace conflict. Another survey conducted by the university addresses satisfaction of the results of whistle blowing. http://press.anu.edu.au//anzsog/whistleblowing/html/frames.php between 61-86% was not satisfied, 19-10.6% were moderately satisfied and 19.2-3.5% were very satisfied with the outcomes of their actions. The site has also included some interesting suggestions to improve satisfaction, like competent investigations and value to be placed on information provided. However whistle blowing can be done anonymously. (http://whistleblowers.co.nz/)
    I do not believe that it is insane to whistle blow, in countries like New Zealand. But the whistle blower must be sure of the three paradoxes before revealing potentially damaging information.
    Can anyone prevent someone from denouncing crime?
    I have used a broad overview of “crime”, to include the prevention of someone from whistle blowing/speaking out against wrongdoing. In most cases I do not believe that whistle blowers can be denounced. Whistle blowers have a number of legal rights, and protection in New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom and Unites States. http://www.communitylaw.org.nz/community-law-manual/chapter-15-employment-minimum-entitlements/protected-disclosures-protection-for-whistleblowers/
    Although there are some countries like Zimbabwe, where there are parties who try to silence whistle blowers. (http://www.globalwitness.org/library/campaigners-denounce-effort-silence-whistle-blower)
    I believe that whistle blowing is the right thing to do, and cannot legally be denounced.

    References:
    Davis, M. Some paradoxes of whistleblowing. Business and Professional Ethics Journal, 15 (1), 3-19.
    Duska, R. F. (1990). Whistleblowing and employee loyalty. In J. R. Desjardins & J. J. McCall (Eds.), Contemporary issues in business ethics (2nd ed., pp. 142-147). Belmont CA: Wadsworth.

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