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Legal Dictionary

whistleblower

Legal Definition of whistleblower

Noun

whistleblower (plural whistleblowers)

  1. Alternative form of whistle-blower.

Definition of whistleblower

Further reading

A whistleblower (whistle-blower or whistle blower) is a person who tells the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities (misconduct) occurring in a government department, a public or private organization, or a company. The alleged misconduct may be classified in many ways; for example, a violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations, and corruption. Whistleblowers may make their allegations internally (for example, to other people within the accused organization) or externally (to regulators, law enforcement agencies, to the media or to groups concerned with the issues).

One of the first laws that protected whistleblowers was the 1863 United States False Claims Act (revised in 1986), which tried to combat fraud by suppliers of the United States government during the Civil War. The act encourages whistleblowers by promising them a percentage of the money recovered or damages won by the government and protects them from wrongful dismissal.

Whistleblowers frequently face reprisal, sometimes at the hands of the organization or group which they have accused, sometimes from related organizations, and sometimes under law.

Definition

Most whistleblowers are internal whistleblowers, who report misconduct on a fellow employee or superior within their company. One of the most interesting questions with respect to internal whistleblowers is why and under what circumstances people will either act on the spot to stop illegal and otherwise unacceptable behavior or report it. There is some reason to believe that people are more likely to take action with respect to unacceptable behavior, within an organization, if there are complaint systems that offer not just options dictated by the planning and control organization, but a choice of options for individuals, including an option that offers near absolute confidentiality.

External whistleblowers, however, report misconduct on outside persons or entities. In these cases, depending on the information's severity and nature, whistleblowers may report the misconduct to lawyers, the media, law enforcement or watchdog agencies, or other local, state, or federal agencies. In some cases, external whistleblowing is encouraged by offering monetary reward.

Under most US federal whistleblower statutes, in order to be considered a whistleblower, the federal employee must have reason to believe his or her employer has violated some law, rule or regulation; testify or commence a legal proceeding on the legally protected matter; or refuse to violate the law.

In cases where whistleblowing on a specified topic is protected by statute, US courts have generally held that such whistleblowers are protected from retaliation. However, a closely divided US Supreme Court decision, Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006) held that the First Amendment free speech guarantees for government employees do not protect disclosures made within the scope of the employees' duties.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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