Whistleblowing: Should you ever break with protocol?

A whistle-blower is someone who passes along information about what he or she justifiably believes to be serious moral or legal wrongdoing in an organization of which he or she is a member to an internal or external party he or she is not authorized to contact with the intention to stop this wrongdoing.The moral debate over whistle-blowing is complex. Some scholars are concerned that whistle-blowing is, by definition, disloyal, though others question that idea. According to the harm-preventing view, whistle-blowing is justified if the whistle-blower initiates a causal process that leads to the prevention of serious harm. Another justification focuses on the distribution of guilt. Davis, who defends this view, argues that: “[Whistle-blowers] are generally deeply involved in the activity they reveal. This involvement suggests that we might better understand what justifies (most) whistleblowing if we understand the whistle-blower’s obligation to derive from complicity in wrongdoing rather than from the ability to prevent harm.” A third justification holds that whistle-blowing is justified whenever that increases people’s autonomy.

It is not uncommon for whistle-blowers to be dismissed or punished by their employers. Many organizations say they welcome and respect whistle-blowers, but they do not always do so when push comes to shove.

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