Does It Finally Pay To Be A Whistleblower?

whistleblowers attacked retalitation

The news has been filled lately with stories about whistleblowers getting staggeringly big pay outs for exposing wrong-doing at their workplaces. On Tuesday, Associated Press reported that former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld got what may be the largest award ever -- $104 million from the Internal Revenue Service for his tips on a massive tax fraud conspiracy at UBS. Earlier this year, Linda Szymoniak made news earlier this year when she and five other American workers were awarded $46.5 million for blowing the whistle on abuses by the major banks.

Does it finally pay to expose wrongdoing at your employer? While federal laws, including the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, offer new incentives for whistleblowers, new research shows it's riskier than ever for workers to blow the whistle.

The Ethics Resource Center analyzed data from its 2011 study of 2,100 employees at large U.S. companies with annual revenues of $5 billion. And it found that while more workers are reporting wrongdoing, there has been an even bigger increase in the number of whistleblowers who say they've experienced retaliation.

Two out of 3 employees who have seen misconduct reported it in 2011, up from 58 percent in 2007. But 22 percent of them said they experienced retaliation as a result in 2011, up from 15 percent in 2009 and just 12 percent in 2007. And retaliation against workers is prevalent at companies that have strong policies governing ethics. (See the chart below.)

The most common form of retaliation reported by workers was being passed over for promotions or raises (55 percent); but ERC also found a big jump in "physical" attacks, resulting in harm to the workers' property or themselves.

A whopping 31 percent reported such physical retaliation in 2011, versus just 4 percent in 2009.

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"This is very surprising number to us," Patricia Harned, president of ERC, said in an interview. "How can that possibly be? This is an area we need to explore more."

According to ERC, these factors seem to heighten a worker's risk of retaliation:

  • Working at a company "in transition": Employees in companies that recently had mergers were twice as likely to suffer blowback from reporting misconduct.

  • Being the boss: Surprisingly, managers are not insulated from reprisals. In fact, managers who report misconduct are now more likely to experience reprisals than non-management employees -- 24 percent versus 19 percent. In fact, the biggest jump in retaliation rates was among senior managers, the study found.

  • Employers that have "strong ethical cultures": More than 1 out of every 4 whistleblowing workers at ethical companies (27 percent) complained of retaliation, compared to just 15 percent of those at companies that had "weak" ethical cultures. ERC theorizes that this may be due to the fact that in weaker cultures, "the rate is already high and might have hits its upper limit."

The ERC report, however, does note that retaliation is far less common when top management is perceived as being "trustworthy" and "committed to ethics." In companies where the employees said "top management would not get away with breaking the rules," only 17 percent of workers said they'd been retaliated against; the number jumped to 42 percent when workers thought top managers could get away with breaking the rules.

"I recognize that mine's a very, very happening ending," Szymoniak, the whistleblower, told CNNMoney after getting her multi-million dollar pay out. "I know there are plenty of people who have tried as hard as I have and won't see these kinds of results."

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debra daniels


Based on your written comments, you sound like a very sick / vile employer and/or executive who has in the past exacted retaliatory professional / personal punishment against an employee thereby creating a "Whistle-Blowing" employee. All such scum as you certainly sound like and very likely are deserve to literally burn for deliberately destroying the professional careers, personal financial stability, / as a result also the families of others. And, trust that all doing such will pay for it without fail. Pay now or pay later, but all perpetrators of evil / wickedness will indeed pay for wrong-doing / mistreatment of others. If you haven't yet Gary, wait on it. Your big time incredible punishment / severe suffering is coming / it will be far worse than / quadruple+ the terrible wrong / serious life-altering harm you / those just like you did to others.

June 13 2013 at 1:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In a way "Whistle-Blowing" usually works 2 ways. In other words, the one who acquires the label of "Whistle-Blower" (due to his/her actions), usually (somewhere down the line) DID something wrong,, him/herself. That initial behavior is usually what warranted the other person's responsive actions (against the original problem-person,, the whistle-blower). The ONLY reason that one person is "blowing the whistle" on the other person usually relates to him/her sensing receipt of mis-treatment by that other person. In most cases, he/she is NOT being mis-treated, but is merely being "punished" (and very appropriately) for his/her misconduct. Now instead,, when he/she goes and BLOWS the whistle on the other individual,, he/she is really just "making things worse for him/herself." So in THAT regard, many times "whistle-blowers" are NOT deserving of protection after all,, while instead, they DO deserve to be fired!

November 29 2012 at 8:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And if the employee waits until after they leave the job on their own, then they have to go through the crap of being accusedc of being a disgruntled employee. Which is more crap. It is rising because employers and companies are holding employees hostage because they know full well the personal ramifications outweigh the overall good. What a shame. Personally....I stick to my morals and ethics. If I go hungry awhile, I will take that. Call me a stubborn bitch. Someone somewhere will appreciate. I am not waiting on kharma.

October 01 2012 at 4:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Felicia Fitzgerald

Silly. If I got $104M for ratting out my employer, I don't think that it would be necessary to worry about job security.

September 14 2012 at 9:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've never understood the culture of retaliation against whistleblowers. If there is fraud and wrongdoing at a business wouldn't management want to know about it and correct it? That would make the business more efficient. How can firing a whistleblower and keeping the offenders help? You fire the ethical people and keep the unethical? That's like removing healthy organs from your body while letting the cancerous ones grow.

I've been supporting the Government Accountability Project for years. They protect and aid whistleblowers. If you feel you need to report wrongdoing, contact them first. Please do the right and ethical thing.

September 12 2012 at 11:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And if Republicans get elected this year with their pro-business /anti-middle class outlook it will only get worse for those who report workplace malfeasance.

September 12 2012 at 8:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Any companies or individuals guilty of reprisals against whistleblowers should have damages quadrupled or more. That is the only thing they will ever understand. Maybe even the people at the top should be replaced with the whistleblowers and turn the tables all the way around.

September 12 2012 at 2:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In local government jobs if you ask a question about policies or procedures there is retaliation. If you suggest solutions to things that management doesn't want discussed. you are tortured until you leave. Forget promotions or recognition. Its over. Whats more if you try for a job in a different agency your rep as someone who "told" will follow you and you will not be hired. So the press beats your agency up because no one can talk because of "confidentiality" and you will never work in social services again. The level of stress in government is insane. Yeah become a whistleblower and join the ranks of the unemployed or "suddenly" retired.

September 12 2012 at 12:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michelle Neff

been thier and it wqsn;lt a major bank, report abue by a suoperior and see what happens to you, I did and it got really bad for me.

September 11 2012 at 10:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This situation has been going on for years. If you complain to the Company, you become a target, if you go outside the company you are getting fired asp.So you can sue or lose your job, what do you do. Job satisfaction for average workers has become almost nill, while executives continue to use Corporate America as a cash cow while decreasing the size of the work force. The American dream is dead thanks to Corporate greed.

September 11 2012 at 9:33 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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