For many, the term “whistleblower” carries a negative connotation – as if a worker has gone out of line and shared a company secret. While certain elements of this characterization might be based in reality, the truth is a whistleblower performs a necessary role in ensuring companies act legally and responsibly. Unfortunately, many potential whistleblowers choose to hold their tongues for fear of industry retaliation in response to their statements.
While workers fear the common types of retaliation such as termination, demotion or unwarranted disciplinary action, there are more uncommon forms that must be abolished, including:
- Constructive discharge: This occurs when a company creates an environment so toxic that an employee feels they have no choice but to leave the organization. Technically, the company did not terminate the employee, but a careful examination of factors leaves little question as to what happened. Working conditions can become intolerable for several reasons including transfer to a new department, transfer to a new shift schedule, changing work responsibilities and changing training requirements.
- Industry blacklisting: The organization might take action or spread information that could make it difficult for a former employee to change companies in the future.
- Reassignment: Many workers face a move to new projects or new teams on a regular basis. When this reassignment ends up resulting in the loss of upward mobility or the reduced chance at regular promotions, the transfer could be a movement based on retaliation.
- Isolation: Like a reassignment, a worker might face retaliation in the form of a transfer. Often, companies transfer workers to a department away from friends and trusted co-workers. Employees can feel ostracized and isolated from comfortable surroundings, trusted co-workers and well-known job responsibilities.
Numerous legal protections are in place that shield workers from this type of adverse occupational reaction. Retaliatory actions from the obvious to the subtle are illegal and business owners and supervisors alike must be held accountable. Do not let the fear of retaliation deter you from speaking out about illegal or environmentally hazardous activities at work.