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Whistleblower policies are regulations meant to protect employees who inform authorities about unlawful or inappropriate conduct in the workplace. Since companies engaged in illegal activities wish to keep this information quiet, it is not uncommon to threaten, harass, or even terminate the position of a person who threatens to alert authorities. Regional and federal law may be patchy on the application of whistleblower protection, thus making it important to establish whistleblower policies within individual organizations.
One of the most common whistleblower policies lays out the chain of command and process for filing a complaint. Generally, these policies explain whether a complaint needs to be verbal or written, to whom it must be addressed, and at what level of company management should problem resolution begin. If the problem is with a direct supervisor, it may be necessary to skip a level of authority to find someone who will actually address the issue, but in general it is important to follow the correct steps in the policy.
One common area that whistleblower policies cover includes behavior before a complaint is made. If a worker gains access to information about unlawful activities, or is privy to workplace violations, some people may try to intimidate or threaten the potential whistleblower into ignoring the situation. In addition to creating a harassment situation, this forces the whistleblower into the position of being an accomplice. Good whistleblower policies will not only give employees a forum to bring discrepancies to light, but also protect against threats before a complaint is made. It is important to note that not all policies offer protection in this area, meaning it is generally better to report violations immediately, thus gaining the stronger protection of whistleblower laws.
After a complaint is made, whistleblower policies are sometimes strengthened by existing laws. In the United States, the Sabarnes-Oxley Act of 2002 prohibits any retaliatory action against a whistleblower. If companies fail to protect their employees from internal harassment, the company itself may be subject to lawsuits. State laws throughout the country may provide additional protection. Internationally, whistleblower law is often narrowly defined and may have no protective codes.
Companies are generally not required to have whistleblower policies. When applying for a new job, it may be vitally important to inquire about existing policies and read all material carefully. Many businesses take the view that whistleblowers are protecting the integrity and regulations of the company, but this is far from universal.
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