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How do we know when whistle blowing is morally right or wrong?

Updated on November 30, 2015

How do we know when whistle blowing is morally right or wrong?

Investopedia defines whistle-blowing as “Anyone who has and reports insider knowledge of illegal activities occurring in an organization. Whistleblowers can be employees, suppliers, contractors, clients or any individual who somehow becomes aware of illegal activities taking place in a business either through witnessing the behavior or being told about it (investopedia.com, n.d.).” Most people whistle blow because they feel as though it is the right thing to do while others do it because of the reward that may come from it. But how can we know for a fact whether whistle blowing in fact morally right or wrong?

Some say that whistleblowers are noble characters, willing to sacrifice personally and professionally to expose organizational practices that are wasteful, fraudulent, or harmful to the public safety. Others suggest that whistleblowers are, by and large, disgruntled employees who maliciously and recklessly accuse individuals they feel have wronged them in order to attain their own selfish goals (Barnett, 1992). According to an article on businessnewsdaily.com, research done by Ethics Resource Council shows that and I quote “65 percent of workers who witnessed misconduct reported it. More than half the workers who did report misconduct said they did so to a trusted source within the organization, while just over one-quarter brought issues to a senior manager (Mielach, 2012).” According to another article on ethicssage.com it states that and I quote:

“Researchers have posed the question of whether workplace whistleblowing is a right, and thus allows for responsible behavior, or whether it is an imposed corporate duty thus resulting in liability of workers. If an organization institutes an internal whistleblowing policy it is because it perceives moral autonomy to be weak. When businesses then implement the policy, it leads to the conclusion that moral autonomy is strong, and employees are expected to blow the whistle. Therefore, if employees do not blow the whistle in accordance with corporate policy they then become liable for not doing so, rendering the policy a tool that controls employee behavior (ethicssage.com, 2015).”

Most companies believe that their employees should speak up when they see something illegal happening. If an employee willingly comes forward without hoping to receive something in return it is morally right because it is most likely within their moral compass to speak the truth. However, if a person manipulates a situation to make it seem as though something illegal has taken place and willingly blames it on an innocent person then it is in fact morally wrong and that person should be punished. Often employees whistle blow to spiteful or to gain some form of promotion so that they can climb the ladder. In most cases it is not within their best interests to do the right thing but instead gain something to their advantage.

Those who whistle blow know that there are consequences that can come from “snitching” so it takes someone who is genuine and honest to come forward with information that can be used against them. Whistleblowing can also be morally wrong if persons within a company uses the media as a way to reveal confidential information of their business because they feel as though they cannot trust anyone within their organization with the information. It would also be morally wrong if those same person did it out of anger and revenge as oppose to goodwill.

In conclusion, when there is clear evidence of significant, preventable harm to the public, and the whistle-blower has exhausted all internal avenues to effect change then whistle blowing can be considered an ethical practice. A whistle-blower who is complicit in the wrong doing has a moral obligation to help right the situation. It is not the whistle-blowing in itself that creates a threat. The possibility that someone may come forward with confidential information has always been a reality for companies. In this case the threat is created by the knowledge that employees stand to benefit financially from uncovering corporate wrong doing and therefore they may be proactively looking for opportunities to inform outside authorities which is considered morally wrong (Mintz, 2012).



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