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Make sure of your motivation

Why do you feel the necessity to make your complaint public? What is the pressing need that the issues you have identified be solved? Here are few you might consider.

To show someone that you will not be ignored. Often the process of ethical dissent within an organization is resisted by those who disagree with the dissenter or have reasons to not want to reform the organization's behavior or policies. If you have run up against this sort of resistance, you may feel motivated to "show them" that you are not a person to be trifled with. This is a motivation that is more likely than not to lead you into trouble. It gets you off the track of actually fixing the behavior or policy of the organization and begins to look like retaliation for ill treatment. It is not far from this motivation to becoming a "disgruntled former employee."

To punish someone for their behavior toward you. When we are injured by others, or when others thwart our reasonable desires towards reform in an organization, it is easy to get angry at the individuals who stand in our way. But again, this motivation will distract you from your real goal, to change the behavior or policy of the organization. It will also make you an easy target for retaliation if it is clear that you have a personal agenda in your whistleblowing case. Hughes' lawyers at the civil trial spent a great deal of their trial time attaching the credibility of Margaret Goodearl and her partner in the suit, Ruth Ibarra (Aldred by the time of the court hearings). But the lawyers avoided any claim that Goodearl and Aldred had a vendetta against the company. Their behavior within the organization and their steadfast concentration on the wrongdoing (rather than on the wrongdoers) made this defense unavailable to Hughes.

To maintain your personal integrity. If you feel you are being asked to engage in behavior that is unethical, you will likely want to distance yourself from it. But you may be able to distance yourself from unethical behavior or policy and maintain your own integrity without blowing the whistle. This motivation may not require changing the behavior or policy of the organization, but simply distancing yourself from that behavior.

To save your organization's reputation and finances. It might seem paradoxical to make allegations public in order to save an organization's reputation, but it is a reasonable motivation nonetheless. If you have reason to believe the organization will eventually get in trouble for their actions, making allegations public now may save the organization from greater damage later. If your goal is to change the behavior or policy of the organization so that it will be able to keep its reputation, you can still be a loyal employee while challenging your organization in public. In legislative circle this is known as the "loyal opposition." You would rather not have to take this role, but you may feel that it has been forced upon you.

To reduce threats to public safety and health. If you think your organization's behavior or policy poses a health or safety threat you are now thinking of another duty you have that may be more important than your duty to your employer. Weighing these two duties will depend in part on the extent and likelihood of the threat to health or safety.


With these last two reasons for whistleblowing, you have begun to actually count the cost of not going public. What harms are likely to arise if you decide to not go public? But in addition to these costs of not going public, there are likely to be costs to you if you decide to go ahead and blow the whistle.