*The following is an excerpt from The Corporate Whistleblower’s Survival Guide.
If you are determined to blow the whistle, consider the following baker’s dozen survival strategies before moving ahead. Whistleblowing is a dangerous business, but our experience has shown that a few simple tips can make the difference between success and failure. Review them before you make any irreversible steps that could cost you down the line.
- Consult your loved ones. One of the most serious risks of whistleblowing is family breakup or alienation because the entire family suffers from the resulting hardships. Before taking any irreversible steps, confide in your spouse, family, and close friends – the personal support group you will need to depend on in the coming days – about your plan to blow the whistle.
- Test the waters for support among your workplace peers. Through strategic but casual questioning and discussions with co-workers, you can learn whether your objections are credible and shared among your colleagues and whether you see enough of the whole picture to be certain that your suspicions are well founded.
- Before breaking ranks, consider working from within the system. Challenges to institutional operations often are not taken seriously unless you can prove that you provided the proper authorities a chance to correct the problem and that they responded with indifference or repression.
- Always be on guard not to embellish your charges. This is essential to maintain your credibility. It is far better to understate than to overstate your case because your employer will leap at the slightest exaggeration and use it to discredit you.
- Seek legal and other expert advice early. Do not wait until you are in the “career emergency room” to seek assistance in evaluating a range of important considerations.
- Stay on the offensive with a well-thought-out plan. Develop your own strategy so that your employer is reacting to you and not vice versa.
- Maintain good relations with administrative and support staff. The magic word for whistleblower survival is solidarity.
- Network off the job: identify potential allies such as elected officials, journalists, or activists with a proven track record. Earning solidarity with the rest of society through information match-making is the Government Accountability Project’s cornerstone strategy. If the employer’s bureaucracy isolates the whistleblower, the public remains ignorant and the whistleblower is surrounded by adversaries in a hostile environment. If whistleblowers connect effectively with all the stakeholders whose trust has been betrayed, an informed, aroused society surrounds the company. The balance of power reverses.
- Keep an ongoing, detailed, contemporaneous record as you go. Thoroughly document the misconduct you wish to disclose to substantiate your whistleblower claims, document your own performance and reviews, and keep a copious record of events as they unfold. The time you take now could be invaluable in any future investigation or court proceeding when you must have a grasp of the facts but your memory has faded.
- Secure all relevant records before drawing any suspicion to your concerns. Because corporate records may be destroyed or hidden, it is important to have a copy of all relevant documents before you expose the problem, even if you plan to remain anonymous.
- Engage in whistleblowing initiatives on your own time and with your own resources, not your employer’s. Employees can be fired for conducting “personal business” on company time using company equipment.
- Check for skeletons in your closet. Be prepared to live with the “whole record” of your life. Any personal vulnerability or peccadillo you possess can, and most likely will, be used against you by your employer.
- Do not reveal your cynicism when working with the authorities. For any investigator or auditor who was not defensive to start with, wearing your cynical suspicions on your sleeve may poison the well and intensify preexisting biases against you.