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Whistleblowing In America

Updated on February 7, 2019
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish is a successful Employment & Training pro, setting Midwest regional records with tens of thousands placed in gainful employment.

Police Whistle
Police Whistle | Source

Whistles and Their Uses

Whistleblowing is named after the traditional action of police officers in which they blow a whistle to signal that a crime is underway and backup is needed. Crime films set in England often show the British police blowing whistles in this manner. Sports referees also blow whistles - to stop action on the playing field and often to call a foul against a player and/or to mete out penalties or award free throws and the like. The whistle gets attention.

"Blowing the whistle" in industry and government is about calling out a crime and its perpetrator. This whistle gets attention and sometimes, not all of it good. Hence, the controversies about the practice.

Fear and Fellow Travelers

Reporting individuals, companies, organizations, or government agencies draws attention to and often stops illegal activities. Instead of a whistle, the "whistleblower" reports to authories and/or the news media for broadcasting the information. However, personal cost may be attached to the reporting. In the 1970s, for example, whistleblowers were often shunned. Some people fear them even in th 2010s. This fear may never disappaear in any decade.

Not only did some organizations in the 1970s retaliate against whistleblowers with a number of consequences that included job loss, but the friends and neighbors of the person sometimes felt that their own jobs were endangered by socializing with the person. They also feared that whistleblowing would put the company out of business.

This shunning was reminiscent of the 1950s' blacklisting and its seeking out of fellow travelers (Communist sypathizers) for targeted discrimination. Then, laws protecting whistleblowers were passed in the 1970s and began to be enforced.

Still, some individuals fear whistleblowers in modern times, afraid that the reporting person is also looking for something about them to report as well. In some ways, it's still the 1950s.

The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA) is a law that protects federal government employees in the United States from retaliatory action for voluntarily disclosing information about dishonest or illegal activities occurring at a government organization.


HubPages Q & A:

Should whistleblowers be shunned or applauded for bringing a true glimpse into business practices? -- asked by Hubber kenjmo (7/27/2013)

Whistleblowing: Subversion or Corporate Citizenship? -- asked by author Gerald Vinten (10/28/1994)

These are very good questions, related yet a decade apart.


Examples of Whistleblowing

In the 2010s, whistleblowing took up a sizable expanse of media reporting in the cases of Wikileaks (war information and Spy Files, etc.) and the Edward Snowden case (Internet and telephone monitoring by government).

Together, the two cases provide a massive amount of information about which the American people can be worried. There may be elements of heroism and treason in both cases, but controversy is likely to remain round both for decades into the future. At the same time, it would seem that uncovering information about illegal and harmful acts by governments against populations should be considered heroic.

Not all cases are as big as the ones mentioned above. In my area, there have been a few that involved employees reporting public and private companies and individuals for illegal actions that harmed employees and the public.

Whistleblowing in Small to Medium Sized Businesses

The smaller-scale cases in my region involved restaurants and social service organizations that experienced financial problems and chose some odd ways of addressing them. These ways were odd enough to raise employee ire:

  • One restaurant in a chain ordered frozen meat on a weekly basis. An employee noticed that the bottom five cases of the stack in the freezer always had the same expiration date, long ago passed. Opening the corner of one of the cases, he found that it was full of rocks - five cases of rocks were counted as inventory every week. On top of some payroll problems, this was enough to cause a report that resulted in the manager's firing. None of the crew lost their jobs.
  • In a smaller retaurant in another chain, the manager watered down the sodas and salad dressings, shorted every employee 15 minutes of pay per shift, and did something else very bold. He owned a hotdog cart in the downtown area and the paper and food supplies he used on it came from the restaurant he managed, stolen without remorse. Again, he lost his job without the crew losing theirs.
  • One individual in our town was reported at a nonprofit company, a college, a hospital, and a department with the state for not working hours recorded on his timesheet. This amounted to 100s of hours and a lot of money on a yearly basis, which employees reported at each location.The individual is banned from employment with the state and any of its contrators and grantees.
  • A doctor in town was reported for double billing for patient services associated with Workers Compansation and Social Security Disability, as well as for other infractions. Surprisingingly, this individual lost his license to practice for only three months. It was a small practice and his staff fortunately found other employment.

While the whistleblowers in the above cases may not be heroes, they certainly saved their companies money and saved customers increased costs resulting from theft losses. Saving others' money can be heroic, especially during and after the Great Recession.

Whistleblowing - Good or Bad?

Authors and the public have been asking the question more frequently for over a decade (1994 - 2013) at least. This is likely the result of increased media play around a larger number of people being confident enough to report illegal activities in business and government since the 1980s.

Today, placards inside city buses urge riders to report anything suspicious to authorities. This encouragement targets reporting of illegal drugs and terrorist activities, but the concept has leaked into the business and government worlds.

Watching television and internet broadcasts about individuals that have "blown the whistle" successfully is also an encouragement for more instances of the practice to occur. Whistleblower protection laws against employer retaliation also help in that regard.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) in 1970 set up some of the first protective strategies for the reporters of dangerous conditions in the workplace that employers were not attending (including in restaurants like those mentioned above). However, OSHA does not oversee nonprofit agencies for compliance, although OSHA will provide safety training.

One of the very first whistleblowing laws was Quin Tam from 13th Century England, which followed into the American Colonies. In the Civil War During 1863, the False Claims Act was passed into law to allow people not affiliated with the government to be entitled to file claims against government contractors.

Billboard in Washington DC. In 2012, Manning also received  support from crowds protecting for him in Germany.
Billboard in Washington DC. In 2012, Manning also received support from crowds protecting for him in Germany. | Source

What Is Whistleblowing?

One thing that whistleblowing is not, is this:

Breaking rules, regulations, or laws, suffering justly deserved consequences, and then complaining to anyone who will listen or read one's complaint that the employer, agency, or similar entity illegally wronged one. This is like the antics seen in Jerry Springer-like exploitation television shows. It might even be entertaining, but it is not whistleblowing.

Whistleblowing is the act of reporting illegal activity done by a company, government agency, or other group or individual to the appropriate authorities and then often times, to the news media. Media attention is particularly dangerous to the reported person or organization. In the case of reporting government activity, either the media or the UN might be the place to report.

Selling government defense secrets to a foreign agency is not whistleblowing, but it is treason and a felony. One cannot say, "I don't like what the USA is doing, so I'm going to sell secrets to 'Country X.'" Someone may call that whistleblowing in order to defend their position, but it is not.

In the Wikileaks and Snowden cases, it looks like defense secrets were leaked without payment, eventually reported by UK's The Guardian in each case, as well as other media.

Bradley Manning, charged with 22 counts in his Wikileaks related trial, was convicted of five counts of espionage, along with theft and some other crimes. He was not convicted of aiding the enemy. To many, he may be a hero, but not to all.

Edward Snowden at this time has been offered refuge in Russia, complicating US-Russian relations. While some legislators call for the US to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as retaliation, this will likely not occur. If it would occur, at least a portion of supporters of the Olympics would see Snowden as a villian.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Patty Inglish MS


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      @LongTimeMother - An actual WikiLeaks Party is fascinating and I'll be looking at the news in Australia more closely. I am eager to see what happens. Thanks for sharing tat information!

    • LongTimeMother profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Hi Patty. Our next federal election in Australia is in September and for the first time we have a WikiLeaks party with candidates for the Senate. I've just finished a hub considering the implications of having Julian Assange as a Senator. The thought of having a government that encourages and invites whistleblowing within their system (instead of to external bodies like WikiLeaks) has a definite element of appeal.

      I enjoyed your hub. Voted up +.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thank you for your thoughts, stars439. Hope all is well with you.

    • stars439 profile image


      7 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Dear Patty : Wonderful hub, and examples of reported wrong doings are interesting in you're hub. I am glad we have whistle blowers everywhere because trust should not come easy. Often too much is at stake. God Bless You, and thank you .

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      @Wess - Pbama and Bush DO sound like the same voice many times. I'm always for telling the truth to help people.

      @Mark Ewbie - GITMO is certainly still open. After the run of films released in July about corrupt US govenment officials, even though some are comedies, fewer and fewer people will trust the government.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      @someonewhoknows - GMO is one that particularly bothers me, but many friends are using heirloom seeds. I don't think farmers can find enough of those for their fields. The FDA is questionabl - I see a lot of agricultural product prices going up and wonder if fake shortages are looming. For example, the price of beef in my state was going down and suddenly, beef is recalled and the price went up $1 -$2 per pounds again in the stores. Coincidence?

      @MsDora - Thansk for the regards for whitstleblowers!

      @Paul Keuhn - Security clearances sound like they can be dangerous - or at least uncomfortable.

      @tillsontitam - Helping humanity is always a good thing. Thanks for the share!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      @Abby Campbell - FBI in a small town! That sond like something big is about to erupts, even on a national level as you say. You're right on the front lines!

      @Gail Myers - I don't know about other states, by Ohio is strict in following OSHA enforcement. Big consequences! The pictures are working from my browser, so I hope you can see them now, too.

    • Mark Ewbie profile image

      Mark Ewbie 

      7 years ago from UK

      I'm with Wesman on this. Exposing the secrets, lies and hypocrisy is for the public good. Unfortunately the public are largely too stupid to understand it.

      Assange, Manning, Snowden are the new heroes of this age. The villain in the piece is the US government. Funny how Obama celebrates Chinese whistleblowers and then chases his own. Is Guantanamo still open? Seem to remember that was an election pledge. Sorry Patty. Rant over.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      How can exposing crimes ever be wrong? I'm all for Snowden and Manning, and for Assange as well; always will be.

      The US Federal Government under Obama or Bush (same thing) is the world's most vile organization.

      Cheers for the subject.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      This was interesting from start to finish Patty! Whistleblowing got a bad rap over the years. It isn't being a tattle tale but helping humanity. It's not about who got a promotion when you didn't (and you didn't deserve it).

      Closing your eyes and walking away from cheating or injustice does not make you a hero but a coward, don't be afraid to blow the whistle.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting. Shared with my readers.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      This is an awesome and very illuminating hub. As much as many people in the media would like to portray Snowden as a whistleblower, he wasn't because he had a security clearance and was bound by regulations not to divulge classified information. A person does give up a lot of their freedom when they get a security clearance! At the school where I work in Thailand we are bound by our contract not to divulge any privileged information whether it be bad or harmful to outside people. If we are caught divulging the information, we are immediately dismissed from our teaching positions. Voted up and sharing.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      7 years ago from The Caribbean

      The wrong doings you cited all deserved the whistle. Some people are called heroes for doing far less than the whistleblowers do for their fellow workers and their communities. Hooray to their bravery!

    • someonewhoknows profile image


      7 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      Interesting subject to say the least. Personally I believe there has been more corruption in government and business than most people would accept as the truth.There has been much talk about the so-called revolving door between high level government watch dog agencies such as the F D A - Food and Drug Administration and former drug company big wigs and G M O - Genetically Modified Organisms related corporations such as Monsanto and many others I'm sure who have a vested interest in laws that affect their businesses.

      I have no problem with these corporations legitimate concerns with government control over there businesses up to a certain degree but, when corporations are given the same rights as Individuals and even more so since a corporation can't be put in jail for criminal activity - That's where a line should be clearly drawn between the two.

      Whistleblowing on government & business activity that we the people consider criminal should be welcomed rather than frowned upon.

      P.S. I must say though I do believe Monsanto & other corporations that are of the same should be under more public scrutiny because of the damage they do to human health by having one of their "own" in a position of authority in government agencies such as the F D A. approve the use of products such as Roundup which is toxic to humans and animals.

      We have had example after example in, American history at least that,there has always been someone be it the government and or business and sometimes both that want to prevent public knowledge of toxic wastes that have harmed or are still harming people even those that are under the military and or government as well as corporate businesses and do not have the best interests of the people in mind when it comes to money and control over people .It,would make an interesting hub on the number of times in recorded history we have had such things happen to anyone or everyone in the past.

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 

      7 years ago from Johnson County, Kansas

      Interesting read, Patty. I think it is great that OSHA laws were put in place. I wonder in the really high profile situations if the OSHA laws are about as effective at protecting a whistleblower as a restraining order is in some of the more serious cases at protecting a battered wife who tries to leave an abusive husband?

      Patty, for some reason the pictures are not displaying for me and I just wanted to let you know.

    • Abby Campbell profile image

      Dr Abby Campbell 

      7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      I am still so shocked with what is going on in my town. It's really funny because we don't see this on the news. But, we have seen the FBI in town and we know about the police force from the news. Because investigations are still going on, it's hush-hush when it comes to media. But, all the teens and young adults know what is going on because those that are immediately affected (from parents who are being investigated) talk to their friends thinking that their conversations are private. I would love to write the story, but I have no idea how to even begin.

      My girls and their friends believe that this small town may lead to bigger investigations... county... state... and even national. They say there is interlinking. I would not doubt it. There is so much more corruption in our country than I ever could have imagined.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Your town in NC presents an incredible case! I think it would, indeed, make a good Lifetime Channel offering. We might even suspect some corruption in the nation's capital, but a small rural town? The story could become a big film - I've seen four in a row about drugs and corruption this month. You show it to us for real. We usually wonder how this could happen, don't we?

    • Abby Campbell profile image

      Dr Abby Campbell 

      7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Patty - Awesome and interesting read! I think whistle blowing can be a good thing as it protects those that have been affected by illegal or immoral actions. I moved to a little rural town of about 5,000 to 6,000 people outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, from the Washington, DC, area. My family and I moved to this little town in the "Bible Belt" thinking that we would be getting away from the immorality of the big city. One funny thing I never understood was how my little town brought the most revenue for the state back in the 1980s. Even though the population was twice as big, it was still pretty darned small compared to most big cities.

      Well, lo and behold, all heck broke loose last year in my town and is still going on. A whistle blower told on one city accountant embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Please remember this is a very small town of about 5,000 to 6,000 residents.) I was flabbergasted by the news, but the city accountant got a slap on the wrist and the city only asked her to pay back $4,000. Several months later, the FBI came into our town and arrested almost our entire police force. Mind you, our police force consisted almost a dozen officers for this tiny town. They were embezzling millions of dollars worth of goods and transporting them to other parts of the country. They were even caught with millions of dollars of illegal drugs. Since then, and earlier this year, a few of those multi-millionaires that basically ran the businesses in town back in the 1980s were being investigated. Some have skipped the country! Now we have 26 residents being investigated by the FBI. Our entire town is falling apart. LOL.

      What seemed like a sweet little town in the Bible Belt has been crushed by whistle blowers... those who have known these illegal actions were taking place for decades. But, the whistle blowers identities are also being preserved which is good.

      Anyway, I didn't mean to go on and on. I just thought you might find the story musing, especially since it seems these kind of things don't happen in rural America... well, only on the Lifetime Channel. LOL.

      Again, thanks for sharing a wonderful hub! :-)


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