Whistleblowing involves an employee within an organization taking legal action or communicating publicly about illegal or unethical behaviors going on within the organization. Whistleblowers face a tremendous ethical and moral dilemma when deciding whether to go against their employer if internal communication does not lead to necessary changes.
The development of whistleblowing within an organization begins when an employee recognizes what he believes are inappropriate, illegal or unethical activities within the organization. The challenge for that employee is to make a choice between following the company line or attempting to put a stop to the activities. Deciding to communicate or take action is often a defining moment for a whistleblower as he is making his job and his reputation vulnerable by addressing activities that are integrated into his workplace culture.
Before whisteblowing officially takes place, employees may try to motivate necessary changes through internal communication. This can include communication with an immediate supervisor or someone higher ranking withing the organization. Ideally, if bad accounting practices, unfair treatment of workers or clients or other inappropriate things are going on, company leadership would work to correct them. Unfortunately, if these things are ingrained in the organizational culture, such as with the Enron accounting scandal in the early 21st century, company leaders are often already overlooking them.
Legal or Public Action
Ethical dissent, or disagreement with unethical activities, becomes whistleblowing when you take public action by contacting legal help or public agencies. This is when an employee takes a much stronger opposition to its organization's activities by attempting to build external opposition to what is happening. Consumer advocate groups that specialize in fighting businesses on certain issues are often involved in building cases and taking legal action when necessary.
For the whistleblower, facing potential backlash from colleagues and company leaders is the most significant threat from whistleblowing, explains Lilanthi Ravishankar in her 2003 article "Encouraging Internal Whistleblowing in Organizations." Ravishankar points out that attitudes toward whisteblowing have evolved significantly. In the mid-to-late 20th century, popular perception was against whisteblowing as the notion that you do not "bite the hand that feeds you" was pervasive. However, because of prominent scandals, such as Enron, more public pressure has led to strong government regulations to protect whisteblowers from workplace backlash.