You didn’t take a new job anticipating that you would become a whistleblower there, but that may be what eventually happens. If you discover illegal billing practices or uncover signs of harassment targeting certain people at the company, you may very well feel like it is your ethical duty to speak up about those issues.
Workers typically don’t want to do any unnecessary damage to the companies that employ them, so your initial response to such a discovery might be to make an internal report to management or human resources instead of involving an outside regulatory agency. While your intentions may be honorable, an internal report of misconduct could potentially lead to two additional kinds of employer misconduct.
The company may retaliate against you
There are very clear federal laws protecting those who report illegal activity, discrimination or harassment. Unfortunately, many companies will happily violate those rules to protect their profit margins.
Your employer might fire you right away or start building a case against you by writing you up for minor behavioral issues or becoming more critical during performance reviews. You could also face more subtle forms of retaliation, such as a transfer to a new department or changes to your schedule. Retaliation can directly punish you while also deterring other people from speaking up as you did in the future.
They can cover up the misconduct
Whether they get the victims of a manager’s misconduct to sign questionable nondisclosure agreements or they alter scheduling and financial records, your employer could use your report not as an opportunity to address the issue but rather to prevent others from uncovering the same issue later.
It is crucial that those alleging discrimination or illegal activity create their own, independent records so that they can validate their claims even if the company tries to hide the evidence. Some workers may find that involving a lawyer when making an internal report will reduce their chances of facing these kinds of misconduct. Others may decide after discussing the situation with a lawyer to involve regulatory agencies before or at the same time as they report the issue internally.
Learning more about whistleblower protections and other employment laws can help you do the right thing when you suspect illegal behavior at work.