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A corporate whistleblower is a current or former employee of a business or corporation that chooses to report illegal activity within the company to authorities. A corporate whistleblower may be lionized or demonized, cast either as a great moral example or a tattletale, depending on opinion. Regardless of motivation, a corporate whistleblower often accepts the risk of threats, harassment, and punitive action by choosing to report illegal behavior.
Whistleblowers are typically privy to information that conclusively proves, or at least strongly indicates, professional wrongdoing at the workplace. This may be evidence of insider trading, illegal business practices, or even practical discrimination in hiring practices. Usually, a corporate whistleblower will inform authorities if attempts to get the problem corrected internally go ignored. In some cases, a whistleblower will choose to inform authorities instead of going through a normal chain of command, particularly if the company has a history of firing employees that choose to question procedure.
Businesses that are knowingly and intentionally conducting illegal behavior are usually at pains to silence anyone who seems likely to inform authorities. Many take advantage of confidentiality agreements to threaten a worker's position if he or she is considering reporting illegal behavior. Since confidentiality agreements usually extend beyond the term of employment, employees who are fired or quit may still be at risk for threats of litigation for violating their contracts. While some laws have been created to protect employees that blow the whistle, these are far from comprehensive and may not provide necessary protection to save a whistleblower's job or professional reputation. For that reason, many legal experts recommend contacting an experience lawyer as soon as a decision is made to blow the whistle.
Stories of famous whistleblowers often detail the perilous path walked by those who choose to inform on companies. Jeffery Wigand, who famously turned corporate whistleblower after discovering that the tobacco company he worked for was including additives in their tobacco products that could increase addiction, maintains that he received death threats in the wake of taking the information public. A corporate whistleblower can nonetheless have a tremendous effect on policy and enforcement, such as in the case of David Franklin, a microbiologist who exposed evidence that the pharmaceutical company he worked for was withholding evidence about the high failure rate of a drug in order to keep it on the market. Franklin's effort as a corporate whistleblower led to numerous changes in the legal process of drug marketing in the United States.
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