Whistling in the Wind

A Chinese Doctor gets t-boned for speaking out about the coronavirus, and everyone is up in arms. I could understand it if he’d been dumped on for peddling powdered rhino dick, but from his perspective he was on a determined course to adhere to the Hippocratic oath.

Sadly, he has shuffled off his mortal coil, purportedly at the behest of CoVid-19 (as we now smugly like to say to give off the sweet, satisfying odour of cognizance) and not the Chinese Secret Service, which is so secret that there is no recognised moniker for it. Meanwhile, the CoVid-19 saga resembles the soap opera of a faraway ant colony, about which we will likely become obsessed once the repeats have hit the History Channel in about 2030, sandwiched between limp yarns of marine life and the Nazi Occult.

But to be perturbed that a whistleblower had been suppressed? That’s nuclear-grade hypocrisy right there. Or at best, staggering naivety. You see, opening one’s trap about wrongdoing is almost exclusively adjudged more reprehensible than the crimes being reported. Even in policing circles where the fruits of the whisper are indispensable, detectives loathe their grasses more than the criminals they pursue.

While there is no honour among thieves, at least they are to all intents and purposes out in the open. While burglars no longer don masks and striped jumpers and carry bags marked ‘swag’, the Old Bill know them all and the miscreants themselves make little secret of it. They know that rules are rules and that the criteria for a ticket to the winkle-shop rests on evidence of specific crimes, not current or past membership of the criminal fraternity. When a cop does pull a villain, they slip into their respective roles with ease. It’s almost reassuring to know the milieu and the likely next moves of your foil.

However, with informers, the ground rules are uncertain. They cannot easily be controlled. In a police situation, they might need to be coerced, which makes them dangerous. That’s why there needs to be co-handlers and strict processes regarding their management. If they are prepared to screw their confederates, who wouldn’t they screw?

Whatever the fanciful and self-righteous blurb regarding support for the act of speaking up and the protection from anti-victimisation, whistleblowers are dangerous to everybody. Perhaps that’s because we all have a skeleton or six rattling in the closet.

When we become aware of a confederate who is prepared to come forward and tell all, that is just a little too close for comfort. We always prefer somebody inside the tent, pissing outwards, don’t we? And what if they find out about our guilty secret?

In corporate life, it’s even trickier.

Whistleblowing has been reluctantly incorporated into the rules and regulations because companies had to harness something tangible that demonstrated their probity rather than asking the populace to accept them at their word. Many have so-called hotlines for anonymous reporting of wrongdoing and for some, this will qualify them for a degree of indemnity from their legal insurers with regard to future claims.

Irrespective of this, most will use the red phone as an opportunity to gather information so that stories can be straightened out before a regulator, or worse, presents the airhead, disinterested, teenage receptionist with their photo-id and an excruciatingly complex explanation of why they are parked in space number 53 without prior authorisation.

But speaking up cannot simply happen unless you typically speak or type while shouting Banzai! You cannot just have people popping up and exposing all the tricks of the trade to regulators and the authorities. An implied shot across the bows is the notion of ‘protected disclosure’. An employee is protected only if they disclose their concerns to a ‘prescribed person’ (normally a legal adviser, employer,or other relevant party such as a regulatory body), which make it a ‘protected disclosure’. That legal protection will hold up only where the disclosures are made in the reasonable belief of the employee to be true and to be covered by the law, regardless of the motive for making them.

So, you cannot just pipe up and point the finger. Even if you are privy to heinous skulduggery, you will not be protected unless you satisfy the criteria for proper disclosure, after you’ve raised your head above the parapet. Not quite the open and transparent quest for justice is it?

If it transpires later that you might not have satisfied the criteria, you’ll be on the back foot playing catch-up to protect yourself regardless of the veracity of your disclosure.

And don’t think that the big bosses will ride into town to save your hide and follow through on any big-ticket sanctimonious crusades to stamp out wrongdoing. You’ll never be thanked for blowing the gaff. Businesses care about profits and vicarious liability. The latter (as well as being a short- and long-term risk to the former) means that when employees put their size-12s in it, the organisation is automatically responsible. Therefore, the whistleblowing structures that businesses put in place exist to mitigate losses, not to make sure that poor practices are weeded out.

You have to remember the salient gem of compliance: organisations define bad practice in terms of profit and loss, not morality and ethics. And something is only unethical if its lack of probity can be evidenced by an independent third party.

So, if you are thinking of putting in the bubble on a charlatan colleague, don’t be tempted to take someone from HR or Legal into your confidence. These characters are loyal to two parties only: the firm and themselves. And not necessarily in that order. While there may be safeguards against backlashes in official policies, victimisation only exists when it is proved. And there is more than one way to skin a cat.

All of which leaves you with a problem. How do you safely bring wrongdoing to the fore? Well, you can make anonymous disclosures, but even those backed with evidence can simply fade away and if you are not a declared, interested party, it may be difficult to track the progress of an issue.

Or you can go nuclear. A big anonymous e-missive to all relevant parties. The problem with this one is that making evidence public may damage the prospects of future proceedings. People posting dashcam evidence of their prangs online soon find that out when the police are unable to proceed with cases. But the atomic e-bomb serves a purpose for outing and on reflection may at least stop a perpetrator in their tracks.

What you should be very careful of is anonymously blowing the whistle while you are still in employment and therefore within the nefarious clutches of those who will be hellbent on your unmasking. Unless you are adept at fronting stuff out, you run the very real risk of being subjected to the death of a thousand cuts. So, definitely not advisable to whistle while you work but if you do, distance yourself from any office gossip regarding the drama. The less you say, the less you might spill.

My advice? Prepare well, load up the gun and fire. It’s better out than in and even if they embark on a clean-up, enough may stick. And you’ll appreciate the comparatively rare reversal of fortunes away from the wrongdoers as a victory for those in the right.

unsplash-logoBen White

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