What is a whistleblower?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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The term “whistleblower” originally comes from the actions of the British police force, who would blow their whistles to inform the bystanders of a possible danger and to alert other police officers in the area. Today, a whistleblower is a person who reports the corruption/wrongdoing of another to the relevant authorities.

Who is a whistleblower?

Whistleblowers may report a wide variety of misconduct, including violations of a law or regulation, activities that pose a threat to the public interest, fraud, health and safety violations, or corruption. Whistleblowers are often people who were involved with an organization or employed by it, and their knowledge of the problem came from their insider status. 

Whistleblowers can make their allegations either internally or externally. Most whistleblowers are internal whistleblowers who report the problem or wrongdoing to another employee or to a superior in the company. Many people refuse to be whistleblowers unless they can do so with an assurance of confidentiality: most have concerns about reprisal. Because of this, many companies have a complaint system in place that offers options for whistleblowers.

External whistleblowers, on the other hand, will contact regulatory agencies (i.e.- the media, law enforcement agencies, watchdog organizations, or special interest groups). This kind of whistleblower may receive a monetary reward.       

Whistleblowers are protected from retaliation by state and/or federal laws, where relevant. This means that the federal government has statutes in place to protect whistleblowers when they are reporting crimes on an interstate level, while state governments have instituted similar protective legislation at the interstate level. Anyone terminated or otherwise discriminated against for acting as a whistleblower may have a civil action against his or her employer.

Getting Legal Help

If you are a potential whistleblower, (i.e.- you know of any wrongdoing occurring at your company and you want to report, or “blow the whistle” on it) it is in your best interest to talk to a lawyer first to make sure your rights are protected, and that you understand what can be a very complicated process.  

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