I’m faced with a very fucked up work situation and I thought I would ask for your advice.
This just happened to me:

One of our counsellors comes up to me and ask me for some legal advice. We go into a private room and she tells me about a matter she’s having with the organization. she needs help. in the process, she discloses something the company is doing that is illegal. The company is not paying proper employee taxes to the government and the result is that when an employee is fired they will not have unemployment benefits.

The management justified this by saying, we have to do it because we have no money. but the employees are getting screwed over. Management says, “At least these people have jobs.” Also, management is lying to donors about how many people are working at the company, but at lease the work is getting done.

But I think the government needs to be informed of this illegal behavior so the employees can negotiate a resolution that is beneficial to them.

I’m just not certain what to do. Do you have any advice?

Thanks for reading my lengthy email. The first thing I noticed when I came here was how little our Director seems to care about her employees.

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3 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Whistleblowing almost never works. Especially early in one’s careers. Just leave the organization if you don’t like it. Change the world by staying employable, and getting power to call the shots later in life. You can’t change the world by getting fired. Here are two posts about
    this topic:

    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2003/02/24/whippersnapper-whistleblowers-beware-youre-in-a-tough-business/

    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/08/30/dont-be-a-whistleblower-without-a-very-large-whistle/

    -Penelope

  2. -k-
    -k- says:

    Penelope is wrong. She may be right about the risk involved, but she’s dead wrong when it comes to the right thing to do, and I think you know that. If this were just about lying to donors, I’d say leave it alone. But the fraud they’re committing has the potential to seriously mess with your coworkers’ lives by robbing them of the safety net they’ve worked to earn. Penelope’s advice will cover your ass. But if you’re at all interested in acting as a decent person in the world, find a way to communicate this information to someone who can do something with it.

  3. R.
    R. says:

    Penelope is fundamentally right. Virtue ethics has a powerful pull upon our psyche (perhaps because of its role in the epic narrative, which our brains love,) but it’s a quick path to demise. I think this situation calls for at least some utilitarianism.

    We want to raise the ethics of companies. When corporate ethics falter, everyone suffers – the employees, their families, the company, society. The increased costs of corruption and increased regulation stymies creativity and growth. The behavior of companies improves only if the ethics of policy-setting employees and founders improve, but ethical people advance only if they dodge the cull. Given that whistleblowers wear a scarlet letter for the rest of their days, and are thereafter employable only as reform movement mascots or self-dependent entrepreneurs, it behooves would-be whistleblowers with an eye on career advancement to be prudent.

    So what can a whistleblower do? Anonymous whistelblowing top-down, either through government or company channels, is likely to be ignored unless imminent loss of life or limb is claimed. Whistleblowing will also trigger a hostile workplace as hunts for the “guilty” and punishment of the innocent gets underway. The best lousy option is to gather evidence concerning one or two ex-employees, and to get that information to the respective employees anonymously, along with letting each know what other one received similar info: They can then figure out that this affects more than one ex-employee, and can strategize accordingly. Given the access audit trails of modern document management systems, even this approach is fraught with some danger for whomever retrieves the docs.

    Paranoid? You bet. You never know what or who can turn against you in these situations. If one thing’s clear, it’s that being in the heroic van of “the right thing to do” is the wrong thing to do unless you have the power to crush your opponents.

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