Dissent can occur when an individual decides that he or she will not conform to a popular view, holding an opinion that may be opposed to what the majority thinks. In the workplace, the organizational culture provides the employees with its acceptable values, procedures, practices and behavior to which the employee is expected to conform. If an employee deviates, he or she is considered an organizational, or corporate, dissenter. Unfortunately, when employees step forward and alert the organization to its own wrongdoings, they are labeled as whistleblowers; generally a negative label which causes the employee to be ostracized by the larger organizational group. Recent whistleblower cases leading to corporate fraud exposure have led to improved legislation protecting whistleblowers and encouraging new levels of corporate transparency.
Keywords Cooper, Cynthia; Dissenters; Ethics; Enron; False Claims Act; Lloyd-La Follette Act; Organizational Justice; Sarbanes Oxley Act; Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); Watkins, Sherron; Whistleblowers; WorldCom
Social Interaction in Groups
Dissent can occur when an individual decides that he or she will not conform to a popular view, holding an opinion that may be opposed to what the majority thinks. In the workplace, the organizational culture provides the employees with its acceptable values, procedures, practices and behavior to which the employee is expected to conform. If an employee deviates, he or she is considered an organizational, or corporate, dissenter.
According to Kassing (1998), there are three types of dissent:
- Latent, and
Articulated dissent is considered to be a positive behavior. An articulated dissenter has the ability to express issues in a constructive manner with the intent of fostering a positive change in the organization. On the other hand, a latent dissenter feels powerless with no influence to orchestrate change. Instead of sharing concerns with top management, the latent dissenter tends to share concerns with coworkers. The two types of organizational dissenters mentioned above tend to share concerns within the organization. However, there is another type of organizational dissenter that expresses concerns externally. The displaced dissenter tends to feel that no one in the organization will listen. Therefore, there is a need to voice concerns to the public. Some of the sources that these individuals approach are the media, the legal system or governing bodies for the corporations.
The whistleblower is a type of displaced dissenter who believes that the only way that corrective action will be taken is through external intervention. These individuals tend to be high performers with strong moral values.
Given the increased levels of competitiveness in the world today, many people are tempted to operate outside of the rules and regulations of society in order to get ahead. Although many would argue that traits such as honesty and credibility are valued, temptations have lured some to act irresponsibly. Actions such as cheating, stealing, lying and bribing have always existed in the workplace, as have good moral values and actions. Organizations must put policies in place that will encourage employees to do the right thing and inform the proper authorities when illegal actions and dishonesty take place.
Unfortunately, when employees step forward and alert the organization of wrongdoings, they are sometimes labeled whistleblowers. Instead of being considered heroes for doing the right thing, they are chastised; some never fully recover from the experience. For many of these individuals, there is a loss of trust in fellow employees and the organizations in which they work. Alford (2001) describes the personal trauma a whistleblower feels upon discovering dishonesty or unethical practices in his or her organization:
For some, the earth moves when they discover that people in authority routinely lie and that those who work for them routinely cover up. Once one knows this, or rather once one feels this knowledge in one's bones one lives in a new world. Some people remain aliens in the new world forever. Maybe they like it that way. Maybe they don't have a choice. (Alford, 2001, p. 52)
For whistleblowers, this can be devastating. Everything that they have believed and trusted is turned upside down. In some cases, these employees may have been friends outside of the workplace with the culprits, which places an additional burden on the potential whistleblower. It is unfortunate that society has come to a point where individuals with high moral values and a sense of right and wrong are treated as outsiders. Whistleblowers have been ostracized, reprimanded, forced to transfer, referred to receive psychiatric care, assigned to menial duties, dismissed and blacklisted. Some have been unable to obtain employment at other companies because there is a fear that the same situation will occur. Organizations respond to whistleblowers with hostility and fear.
The US government recognized that big business may not always do the right thing. Therefore, it has introduced and implemented some regulations to level the playing field and allow employees to come forth. Examples of such legislation are:
False Claims Act
The False Claims Act was a qui tam provision that was enacted during Abraham Lincoln's presidency. Originally, the legislation protected the government from damages due to faulty war equipment supplied fraudulently during the Civil War. Revisions were made to the Act in 1943 and 1986. In 1986, there was a significant expansion of the rights of whistleblowers and their attorneys. The law allows individuals to file actions against federal contractors claiming fraud against the government. People filing under the Act may receive 15 to 25 percent of any recovered damages.
The False Claims Act provides the following protection:
Any employee who is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated in the terms and conditions of employment by his or her employment because of lawful acts done by the employee on behalf of the employee or others in furtherance of an action under this section (i.e. a whistleblower action) shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make the employee whole.
Many courts will provide protection when:
- An employee becomes a participant in a "protected activity" (i.e. when an employee decides to confront an employer about illegal activities such as fraud).
- The employer becomes aware of the "protected activity".
- The employee is penalized as a result of coming forth about the "protected activity" (i.e. termination, harassment).
When it has been determined that an employee is a victim of retaliation, he or she may petition for:
- Reinstatement with the same seniority that he/she would have had if the adverse action did not occur.
- Two times back pay
- Interest on the back pay...
(The entire section is 3216 words.)