Who Are Whistleblowers?

In the 19th century whistleblowing was literally about blowing a whistle, i.e. like what referee does during sports games like football or basketball. When referee is blowing the whistle it means that the game should stop. As we know it usually happens when a player or players violated the rules of the game. The referee would stop the game and take actions in relation to those who broke the rules.

Gradually “whistleblowing” got its contemporary meaning of stopping something illegal by reporting about it to authorities. During the most part of the 20th century the public attitude to whistleblowers was ambivalent. Reporting to authorities was not that widespread and those who did report were not considered heroes. Some even called them bad names like finks or stool pigeons.

The situation changed in the 1970-s when Whitewater and other public investigations made it clear that whistleblowers played a very important role in making such investigations happen. Since then whistleblowing is seen by the public as positive actions revealing corrupt bureaucracy, corporate fraud and other illegal activities.

Media loves whistleblowers. They are major newsmakers like Julian Assange or Edward Snowden. Media made them heroes. However the most part of whistleblowers is unknown to the public. They don’t even think they are whistleblowers at the beginning. They just do what they feel is right and what they have to do.

A lot of our successes in revealing different kinds of illegal activities were attributed to employees who were risking their jobs, salaries, pension, but who were speaking up, because the public has a right to know. They bring to light a lot of facts of abuses, fraud or other illegal activities in the corporate world, government institutions, non-profit organizations etc.

Federal and state laws protect whistleblowers from employer retaliation. There are about 30 federal statutes on whistleblower protection. The statute usually makes it illegal to discriminate against a whistleblower or to fire a whistleblower. Such discrimination can be in wage, overtime pay, another job related compensation, or any other issues related to workplace environment and conditions of employment.