Below is a draft one-pager of advice for whistleblowers, which I’m posting here to solicit comments. Feel free to submit them in the comments section. Once I have received and processed feedback, I will post it on our Help and About Whistleblowing pages.
There’s much more that can be (and has been) written about whistleblowing, of course, but keep in mind that we’re trying to keep it succinct – a quick checklist.
There are also some excellent books out there, some available for free on the web. Visit our Links & Books page to find a listing.
Also, the usual legal disclaimer applies. Scroll to the bottom of the post to read it.
To begin with, if you witness wrongdoing or misconduct, do not assume that senior management is not aware of it and would act if they were. This is a classic whistleblowing pitfall. In many cases, management is either aware of the issue or (perversely) would rather not be. In either case, it is usually the messenger (read: whistleblower) who suffers. Even if it turns out that management does have good intentions, the imbalance in power is so great that caution is the best policy.
Beyond that, there are two types of advice we can give. One pertains to general rules of thumb about your own conduct and protecting yourself. The other are a series of steps which may help in deciding whether to bring an issue forward, and how to proceed when the decision is made.
Steps to take after witnessing wrongdoing or misconduct
- Check your facts and make sure you are right about what you witnessed or learned. Even small errors will hurt your credibility.
- Speaking out may be characterized as a personal grudge, so be completely sure that it isn’t.
- Don’t be proud: get a second opinion.
- Consult your conscience
- Consult your family
- Consult your union or professional association
- Consult a lawyer
- Find allies, if possible.
- Unions and professional associations
- Activist groups
- Gather evidence: Document, document, document.
- Create an understandable narrative:
- Collect your documents and put the facts together
- Create a package:
- Start with a long narrative, preferably chronologically
- Summarize the story in a page, using bullet points as appropriate
- Boil it down to one paragraph – this is the hook for interested parties
- As much as possible, tie your story to the public interest
- If you decide to proceed, pick the best way to blow the whistle.
- Anonymous whistleblowing may not be possible, especially if you’ve already raised the issue
- Anonymity doesn’t always work: sometimes they figure it out
- Try to assess management’s likely response, but remain cautious
- Beware of hot lines (they often go straight back to the problem)
- Consider your union or other group
- Consult a lawyer
General rules of thumb on self-preservation and conduct
- If at all possible, do not go to meetings alone. This is where the worst abuses can occur, and where evidence of reprisals surface. Also, people tend to moderate their behaviour when witnesses are present.
- Know your rights.
- Resist bitterness and the urge for revenge. These emotions cloud judgement.
- Stay physically and emotionally healthy – exercise and keep connected with your family.
- And, very importantly: know when to let go. Not every battle can be won.
Please note that Canadians for Accountability is not able to provide legal advice. Readers are advised to use information on this website with caution, and to seek the advice of a union representative, lawyer, or other appropriate professional before taking action. Neither Canadians for Accountability nor any of its officers assume responsibility for any type of damage caused or alleged to be caused by any person, group, organization or entity by information on this website. Any misunderstanding, use or misuse of information on this website is the sole responsibility of the reader.