Whistleblowing: Betrayal or Public Duty?
A paper about Whistleblowing in business ethics subject...
Whistleblowing: Betrayal or Public Duty?
Introduction When an employee discovers unethical, immoral or illegal actions at work, the employee makes a decision about what to do with this information. Whistleblowing is the term used to define an employee’s decision to disclose this information to an authority figure (boss, media or government official). Whistleblowing leads to good and bad results. First, the benefits of carefully considered whistleblowing can lead to the end of unethical business practices. The lives of individuals and whole communities have been saved by whistleblowers. Severe damage to the environment has been stopped by the actions of one individual who blew the whistle on an unethical employer. At the same time, an employee who witnesses’ unethical business practices at work may want to think carefully before making the decision to inform an authority of the practice. The consequences of whistleblowing are often extreme and include possible firing, civil action, or even imprisonment. Ethical justifications for whistleblowing are frequently uncertain (cf. Bok 1980, Bowie 1982, Duska 1997). Ethics of Whistleblowing An employee has a significant obligation of loyalty to a company, however, the duty of loyalty is not absolute; it is a prima facie duty that can be overridden in certain circumstances. These conditions are worked out by Bowie (p. 182; cited in Viten 1994, p. 15) in some detail: •
that the act of whistleblowing stem from appropriate moral motive of preventing unnecessary harm to others;
that the whistleblower use all available internal procedures for rectifying the problematic behavior before public disclosure, although special circumstances may preclude this;
that the whistleblower have ‘evidence that would persuade a reasonable person’; 1
that the whistleblower perceive serious danger that can result from the violation;
that the whistleblower act in accordance with his or her responsibilities for ‘avoiding and/or exposing moral violations’;
that the whistleblower’s action have some reasonable chance for success. There are four indicators when should whistleblowing be attempted: need,
proximity, capability, and last resort. •
Need, there must be a clear and important harm that can be avoided by blowing the whistle.
Proximity, the whistleblower must be in very clear position to report on the problem.
Capability, the whistleblower must have a reasonable chance of success in stopping the harmful activity.
Last Resort, whistleblowing should be attempted only if there is no one else more capable or more proximate to blow the whistle.
Types of Whistleblowing Whistleblowing can be distinguished based on external and internal whistleblowing, External whistleblowing is the whistleblowing carried outside the company and reported to newspaper or law-enforcement authorities. Internal whistleblowing is the whistleblowing is kept within the company or organization. Also, whistleblowing can be divided into anonymous and acknowledged whistleblowing, anonymous whistleblowing is that the whistleblower refuses to divulge his name when making accusations. Whereas, Acknowledged whistleblowing is that the whistleblower puts his name behind the accusations and willing to withstand the scrutiny brought on by his accusations. Guidelines for whistleblowing The list of guidelines for whistleblowing (Lizabeth England, Bussiness Ethics Volume, Ch. 4) helps an employee to determine if a situation merits whistleblowing. 1. Magnitude of consequence An employee considering whistleblowing must ask himself or herself these questions: How much harm has been done or might be done to victims? Will the
victims really be "beneficiaries"? If one person is or will be harmed, it is unlikely to be a situation that warrants whistleblowing. 2. Probability of effect The probability that the action will actually take place and will cause harm to many people must be considered. An employee should be very sure that the action in question will actually happen. If the employee does not know if the action will happen and if the action will harm people (or the environment), the employee should reconsider his or her plan to blow the whistle. 3. Temporal immediacy An employee must consider the length of time between the present and the possibly harmful event. An employee must also consider the urgency of the problem in question. The more immediate the consequences of the potentially unethical practice, the stronger the case for whistleblowing. 4. Proximity The physical closeness of the potential victims must be considered. For example, a company that is depriving workers of medical benefits in a nearby town has a higher proximity than one 1,000 miles away. 5. Concentration of effort A person must determine the intensity of the unethical practice or behavior. The question is how much intensity does the specific infraction carry. Preventing Whistleblowing For a company’s point of view, whistleblowing can lead to a bad image of the organization though there is no company can free from such failure. However, a company can prevent whistleblowing by applying following rules: •
There must be a strong corporate ethics culture.
There should be clear lines of communication within the corporation.
All employees must have meaningful access to high-level managers in order to bring their concerns forward.
There should be willingness on the part of management to admit mistakes.
Case Study In 1996, Barry Adams, a registered nurse (RN) working on a sub-acute care unit in a New England hospital, blew the whistle on unsafe health care practices that he observed in his work setting. Adams became increasingly concerned about the quality, safety, and dignity of patient care as the hospital implemented staffing cuts and cost containment measures. He carefully documented unsafe practices and correlated these with inadequate staffing and a lack of adequate supervision of inexperienced nurses. There was an increased incidence of patient falls, instances where patients were left to lie in their own urine and feces, treatments not being completed, and serious medication errors. These incidents resulted from a substantial increase in the nurses’ patient assignments. For three months, Adams and other nurses followed precisely the process outlined by the organization to communicate concerns to hospital administrators. He soon realized that the administrators were not interested in using the information he provided to correct the situation; in fact, he was harshly criticized for collecting this information. He then decided to proceed with a variation of the traditional saying: "If it’s not documented, it’s not done" and, instead, adopted the approach: "If it’s not done, document it!" Also, at one point he refused to take narcotic orders from a technician working for a physician, citing that this was against the Nurse Practice Act. Adams was threatened with the loss of his job and, in spite of previous performance reviews that were excellent, he was eventually fired. He sued and won his case (his attorney was an RN). The hospital appealed and lost again. Five units of the hospital have since closed "for financial reasons.” Was the whistleblowing carried by Adams a betrayal or public duty? Analysis: The type of the whistleblowing is external whistleblowing as the recipient of his disclosure –about the unsafe practices in New England hospital units-, is the lawenforcements authority. Since he didn’t refuse to divulge his name when making accusations, it can also be categorized as acknowledged whistleblowing. Adams, as an agent of whistleblowing thought that he should blow the whistle because he saw that there are needs for his whistleblowing, and he is in proximity with clear position as a RN to report on the problem. The capability of Adams made that there was a chance of
success if he blow the whistle, and he thought that there was no one else more capable to do so (last resort). We believe that whistleblowing is a moral action of last resort and that, under certain circumstances; it is not only appropriate, but necessary. We would add that a genuine case of whistleblowing requires the whistleblower to have utilized, unsuccessfully, all appropriate channels within the organization to right a wrong. In our case, Adams’ personal and professional reputation was above reproach, and he blew the whistle out of a concern for patient safety and staffing inadequacies. He was aware of the consequences of his actions and willing to assume responsibility for them. As Adams discovered, blowing the whistle can be a life-altering experience — either for better or for worse. The whistleblower who stops an unethical practice in his/her organization and gets rewarded for the behavior can feel a sense of deep accomplishment. However, the whistleblower who attempts to stop an unethical practice in her/his organization and gets punished for it may have to live through many harrowing experiences, including, as Barry Adams experienced, the loss of his job and difficult court proceedings. Panel Discussion Questions: 1. Is there any professional code for nurses? Mention it! 2. Is there any standard of patients rights? 3. What is the moral justification for your case? 4. How about the criticus that expose the government mistakes to the mass media (i.e. Munir)? Can it be categorized as whistleblowing? 5. What if the topic of the whistleblowing is about the behavior of the supervisor, such as when the supervisor have a bad habit like drunk, is it okay to do whistleblowing? 6. What’s the meaning of “beneficiaries” in guidelines for whistleblowing as written above? 7. What’s the ethics code of the nurse? In the viewpoint of he works as an employee and as a public servant? Consider, in one viewpoint that he did whistleblowing, in other hand he did his job to save human life.
Answers of the questions: 1. There are many professional codes for nurses, The earliest code for nurses is generally thought to be that written in 1893 by Lystra Gretter, principal of the Farrand Training School for Nurses in Detroit (Fowler, 1992). And the other are Code of Nursing Ethics formulated by the International Council of Nurses, Code for Nurses with Interpretive Statements formulated by the ANA in 1985, The Code of Professional Conduct composed by the United Kingdom Central Council (1992), and the Code for Nurses: Ethical Concepts Applied to Nursing formulated by the ICN (1973). 2. Yes, based on Joint Commission, 1997, the standard of patient rights are as follow: •
The hospital addresses ethical issues in providing patient care.
Patients are involved in all aspects of their care.
Informed consent is obtained.
Patients are involved in resolving dilemmas about care decisions.
The hospital demonstrates respect for the following patient needs: confidentiality, privacy, security, resolution of complaints, pastoral care, and communication.
The hospital protects patients and respects their rights during research, investigations, and clinical trials involving subjects.
3. The moral justification for our case is (James J. Fletcher, Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. 1998): •
The reason for Adams to blow the whistle is because he saw a grave injustice or wrongdoing occurring in his organization that has not been resolved despite using all appropriate channels within the organization.
Adams is morally justifies his course of action by appeals to ethical theories, principles, or other components of ethics, as well as relevant facts.
Adams thoroughly investigates the situation and is confident that the facts are as he understands them.
Adams understands that his primary loyalty is to clients unless other compelling moral reasons override this loyalty.
Adams ascertains that blowing the whistle most likely will cause better than harm to clients; that is, clients will not be retaliated against because of the whistleblowing.
Adams understands the seriousness of his actions and is ready to assume responsibility for them.
4. If the case is that the agent is not from the inside of the organization, it can’t be categorized as whistleblowing because whistleblowing should conducted by the member of the organization. 5. When an employee sees a wrongdoing conducted by his/her supervisor, he can do whistleblowing to stop the potential of damage. Whereas, it categorized as internal whistleblowing. 6. Beneficiaries in the magnitude of consequences as mentioned in the guidelines for whistleblowing means how much the benefit will be attained by the victims and the agent after whistleblowing, will it greater than the potential harm of whistleblowing and the wrongdoing itself or vice versa? 7. The answer of this question is similar with question 1, with addition that in all viewpoint whistleblowing is okay as long as conduted correctly and for the moral’s sake. Reference: •
Charles B. Fledderman: 2004, Engineering Ethics, Second Edition. (Pearson Education)
James J. Fletcher and friends: 1998, Whistleblowing As a Failure of Organizational Ethics, Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. (http://www.nursingworld.org)
James E. Fisher and friends: 1999, Whistleblowing on the Web. (http://www.bc.edu)
Bowie, N.: 1982, Business Ethics. (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ)