A whistleblower is an individual who publicly alleges hidden wrongdoing by an organization or by another individual, typically from within the same organization. The individual may be an employee or a former employee while the alleged wrongdoing might involve breaking a law, regulation or procedure which in turn threatens the public interest. Allegations can be made to personnel within the organization or to external groups such as the police, the media or special interest groups. For example:
A technologist may be aware that his company is knowingly shipping faulty electronic controls for use in a variety of transportation systems. After repeated failed attempts to have management address the issue, the technologist notifies a local newspaper reporter who publishes an article about the defective components and the potential for accidents and loss of life.
The dilemma for a whistleblower is that they owe a duty of loyalty to their employer while at the same time having a professional responsibility under the Code of Ethics to protect the public interest. There may also be a deep-seated discomfort in becoming a whistleblower as they can face being unpopular with co-workers, discriminated against by potential employers or even dismissed by their employer.
Employers in Canada have the right to terminate a non-contracted employee under the principle of 'employment at will' and at present there is no legislation to protect whistleblowers in private organizations.
Given the lack of legislated protection, the guiding principle for a Technology Professional faced with an ethical issue that contravenes the Code of Ethics is:
- always use established organizational channels to report concerns before taking an issue outside the organization.