Workplace Rights

Weekly (11/13/11)

Topic of the Week  Crime Fighter's Notebook: Reporting Misdeeds at Work

Crime Fighter's Notebook: Reporting Misdeeds at Work:

  • DON'T walk past a felony.
  • DO explore internal and external options.
  • DO collect evidence.
  • DO accept possible retaliation.

Crime Fighter's Notebook: Reporting Misdeeds at Work

All my friends are talking about the tragedy at Penn State and will be for a while. How eight people, according to the Grand Jury report, could have either seen or heard about sexual abuse of minors with no one calling the cops. Criminal, evil…this is one time that words fail us all.But misdeeds at work aren't limited to Penn State, according to a study by the Ethics Resource Center, 49% of us have witnessed misconduct with 63% saying they'd report it. As discouraged as I was to see that almost half of us have seen workplace misconduct, it's encouraging that two-thirds of us are ready to report it.However, with all this rule breaking, I though it was important to provide some insight on the Do's and Don'ts for whistle blowing. Hopefully by demystifying the process, even more people will do the right thing when they see wrongdoing.

DON'T walk past a felony. There is a federal law that requires people to report felonies and, in the case of Penn State, 47 states have laws requiring people to report sexual abuse. However, I think this goes much deeper than just reporting crimes for fear of being punished. I think we should all report crimes because it makes the world a better place. From Watergate's Deep Throat to Karen Silkwood, Frank Serpico to Erin Brockovich, whistleblowers improve life for all of us.

DO explore internal and external options. Most organizations have internal complaint procedures, you should do your homework on how to maneuver through your bureaucracy. At the same time, it's a good idea to talk to a lawyer. Here is a way to get it free, most attorneys will give you a free half hour consultation/sales pitch. Talk to a few employment lawyers and you'll sort out what you need to know. Whatever you do, don't go it alone when there is so much help out there.

DO collect evidence. It is helpful to have evidence when reporting misdeeds. A lawyer told me once that he prefers documents over people, because your coworkers can forget key details and they might get cold feet about saying what happened later on. If you can't get documentation, then keep detailed notes, who said what, where and when. Finally, remember just because you watch cop shows, it doesn't make you a CSI professional, get advice from the pros.

DO accept possible retaliation. According to the Ethics Resource Center, 15% of whistle blowers face retribution, from a cold shoulder from employees to a demotion. It does take guts to report wrongdoing at work. But think about it, if I'd asked you, wouldn't you have thought that the retaliation would have been much greater than just 15%. Retribution can happen, but not at the rate that most people think.

Most people I've talked to think that whistle blowing is a new phenomenon. But the first statute to protect whistle blowers was introduced in '63. Not 1963, but 1863. Hopefully this will help more of us to do the right thing.

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

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