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What are Whistleblower Laws?

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  • Written By: Jeremy Laukkonen
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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Whistleblower laws are statutes designed to protect individuals that come forward with information about improper or illegal activity. These laws vary from one country to another, so some whistleblowers enjoy excellent protection while others may be subject to constructive dismissal or even charges of libel. Whistleblower laws in the United States typically protect individuals whether they report wrongdoing to a superior within their organization or to an external entity, such as the media or authorities. In some special circumstances, whistleblower laws even provide monetary rewards or other incentives to an individual for reporting misconduct.

A whistleblower is an individual that notices wrongdoing or misconduct at is or her place of employment and alerts someone in authority. Internal whistleblowers typically alert a superior within the company or government department, while external whistleblowers may speak to the media, watchdog groups, the police, or other authorities. The activities that a whistleblower can report on are diverse, though they typically involve illegal actions or behavior that runs counter to the policies or regulations of a business or government entity.

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Specific terms of whistleblower laws vary between countries, so the level of protect that they offer is not constant. These protections often vary between different jurisdictions in the same country. Many of these laws protect whistleblowers from reprisals, such as unjust dismissal, and may offer monetary compensation if this occurs. There may also be protection from government persecution if the accused party is an official or bureaucratic. A whistleblower is typically protected from retaliatory lawsuits as well, since these statutes usually take precedence over libel in common law or other systems.

The specific protections offered to a whistleblower may differ depending on what type of activity was reported and how the individual went about the process. Most forms of whistleblowing are protected by law in the United States, though many states have their own statutes and complicated processes for being granted protection. In other cases, a whistleblower can actually receive monetary compensation for reporting misconduct. For example, Wall Street securities traders can be awarded a percentage of any sanctions that result from information they provide.

In countries where no whistleblower laws exist, individuals are often subject to a range of punishments or reprisals for bringing misconduct to light. Countries that use common law will often allow libel suits to be brought against whistleblowers, which can potentially deter individuals from coming forward. People may also be fired from their jobs for reporting misconduct internally or externally in areas that these reforms have not taken place.

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