Not many people count the cost of a whistleblower. Not many understand the scrutiny and harassment that comes with outing a major corporation. But a few do understand, and those few are in support of new laws and programs to protect whistleblowers.
According to an article at Cleveland.com, as it stands now, whistleblowers who go public almost always have their motives and credibility attacked, said Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblowers Center. Whistleblowing is not an easy decision.
The articles states that federal regulators recently offered tangible proof that they want to make things better for informants who provide fruitful, original tips about corporate wrongdoing.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced just a few weeks ago the first reward under a new program that gives a cut of the penalties won by regulators to whistleblowers. An unidentified person received $50,000 for helping to stop a multimillion dollar fraud.
The reward program was announced last year, and since the announcement, the Commission says they receive 8 or 9 leads every day. SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro said the agency is getting high-quality tips that are saving investigators substantial time and resources. They expect more complex cases and bigger payouts in coming months.
With the new SEC law, whistleblowers may find some protection against harassment because it lets people divulge tips anonymously, said Tom Devine, who’s helped over 5,000 whistleblowing employees during three decades as legal director at the Government Accountability Project.
The Ethics Resource Center, a nonprofit focused on ethics in business, said more than one in five employees who report misconduct to employers perceive that retaliation follows. The repercussions are extending even to previously safe groups like senior managers, the center said in a study released.
But, although now tips can be given anonymously, there are some that blew the whistle in the past that say that it was worth it and they would do it again, if need be.
One such person is Glenn Demott, who says he wouldn’t hesitate to blow the whistle again on corporate wrongdoing, even though he paid a high price the first time he did.
Mr. Demott was involved in the largest health care fraud settlement and largest criminal fine ever levied in the United States. The settlement came about because Mr. Demott and five others blew the whistle on off-label marketing of drugs at Pfizer Inc.
Demott lost his job as a senior sales representative, said he was blackballed from the pharmaceutical industry and spiraled into depression after confronting his boss about Pfizer’s prescription drug promotions.
“I was scared out of my wits, actually,” Demott has said. As he continued to raise questions about Pfizer’s marketing, one-on-one with his manager and at team meetings, company officials became increasingly hostile, according to Demott’s whistleblower lawsuit against Pfizer.
With his internal warnings refused, Demott turned to the Food and Drug Administration and the FBI.
Demott said he would speak up about corporate wrongdoing again. But he wouldn’t complain internally. He said he would get a, experienced lawyer on his side, experienced in whistleblowing laws, before opening his mouth.
Milan Georgeff says he faced backlash, too, after refusing to work on engineering blueprints that he believed were stolen from Cleveland’s Eaton Corp.
“It’s cost me dearly,” Georgeff said, “but in the end I did the right thing.”
And Stephen Walker of Akron says his career and finances unraveled after he questioned how Sherwin-Williams Co. handled a sensitive presentation to its board of directors on lead paint litigation.
“My life has been totally destroyed by that corporation,” Mr. Walker said.
The three men believed they were doing the right thing when they spoke up. But for each of them things went painfully, if somewhat predictably, awry. Challenging their employers came with an enormous professional and personal price.