Knowing when to blow the whistle can be a complicated decision. The potential personal ramifications aside, you need to be certain that whatever you’re reporting is truly illegal, rather than simply immoral, and if there’s ample evidence.
Here are a few mistakes to avoid while you weigh the possibility of blowing the whistle.
Don’t discuss your intentions with several coworkers
The more people that know about the situation, the less safe you become. You may have one or even two coworkers who are directly involved in the incident but limit the number of people you talk to.
Office gossip spreads fast, whether you put your trust in the wrong person, or someone simply overhears a conversation and tells others. The information will almost certainly get back to executives who then have an opportunity to cover up or destroy evidence before you have a chance to report the incident. You will also likely be fired.
If you’re unsure about whether the situation meets the standards of reporting to the government, consult with an attorney or trusted friend outside of work.
Don’t launch your own investigation
This is both unnecessary and can expose you to blowback if you’re caught digging for evidence. If you witness actionable crimes and are certain there’s evidence to support a court case, you only need to report the situation to the appropriate government agency. If they decide the incident merits a lawsuit, they will do the investigating.
Whistleblower laws are in place to protect the whistleblower, but in order to receive that protection, you need to formally report the incident. If you decide to summon your inner Sherlock Holmes, you expose yourself to retaliation.
Don’t use company phones or computers to contact a lawyer
Though companies don’t usually have the resources to monitor all communication their employees engage in, you don’t want to reach out to a lawyer on company devices or even while you’re in the building. Compartmentalize all communication, so you don’t run the risk of retaliation before you’ve even decided to blow the whistle.
Don’t jump the gun
Familiarize yourself with the applicable whistleblower laws and what you stand to lose – or gain. A significant number of whistleblower lawsuits fail because the blower didn’t follow the correct procedures. For example, depending on the situation, you may be required to report the issue internally before reaching out to the government.
Whistleblower cases are especially reliant on evidence. Documentation is key.
Finally, take time to consider if whistleblowing is really the best course of action. Will you be endangering yourself or others? Did you participate, voluntarily or not, in the incident in question? There are myriad pros and cons to consider before formally reporting the incident. Take the time to carefully consider all the outcomes before you act.