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Whistle-blowing conjures up images of football referees or police alerting others to wrongdoing-as an essential part of doing their jobs. But, in the workplace, be it corporate, governmental or small business, feelings about employees who do precisely the same thing are far more conflicted and fractured along lines demarcating zones of "loyalty", "confidentiality", "security", "duty", "morality" and "conscience".

Of course, even police whistle-blowing becomes a matter of dispute when the wrongdoing is internal to the police organization, e.g., cops stealing and selling drugs. Then the epithets fly: "snitch", "hero", "traitor", etc. Somehow, most jobs are not conceptualized to include whistle-blowing as a right or a duty within the job description. It may be argued that they should, but with serious consequences if the allegations are unfounded and malicious.

Whistle-blowing occurs when an employee notifies others of unethical and/or illegal actions within an organization. It can be done internally by alerting managers or supervisors, externally by alerting someone outside the organization such as law enforcement, or through leaking information to the media. Not obeying instructions to do something wrong is also a form of whistle-blowing.

Any employee within an organization is a potential whistle-blower. Organizations should have policies and codes of ethics that instruct employees whom to notify in cases of wrong-doing and how to do so. Managers and supervisors should make the policies clear to all employees and assure them that employees can trust them and that there will not be any unjust retaliation if an employee brings wrongdoing to light. When that is not credible, external disclosure or silence becomes likelier.

Employees should notify proper authorities when the actions they know of are causing or could cause harm to other people or property. Even if one understands that it is the ethical thing to do, it is still difficult to find the courage to face wrongdoers. The whistle-blower should keep in mind ethical responsibilities and what ones' conscience and society in general would consider to be ethical behavior.

It is important to address wrongdoing within a workplace quickly. This prevents problems from becoming bigger problems, and it prevents more harm from being done. It also gives the offending party a chance to change his or her ways before getting into more trouble.

It is best to solve problems within the organization if possible. Further, it should be taken to the lowest level of supervisor possible. This keeps problems from being made into something bigger than necessary, and it reduces unnecessary shame to the offending party. Should an employee have to contact an outside party or an upper-level employee, he or she should be sure that the facts are all accurate.
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