Will Whistleblowing Ever Be a Painless Experience?

Posted by Amanda Nieweler

on May 1, 2015

Good Always Prevails in the End!

“I’m Tony Menendez, a CPA and a corporate whistleblower. A decade ago, I was Halliburton’s Director of Technical Accounting and I witnessed some highly questionable accounting and auditing practices at Halliburton. After being told to “save it for the subpoena,” I blew the whistle. Although, Halliburton’s retaliation was swift, my journey through the legal process and the fight for my rights was not. I trusted the system and paid the price. After four years and losing at every stage in the legal process, I ran out of attorneys. With nothing left to lose, I spent several years representing myself. Now, nine years after blowing the whistle, I have prevailed and it appears that I am in the final throes of my battle with Halliburton.”

The above quote was taken from Anthony Menendez’ Reddit feed. Like many whistleblowers, he’s fought the fight of his life to come out from the bottom of a deep abyss with his integrity intact. Menendez blew the whistle on Halliburton booking its revenue incorrectly. What transpired after that was a whirlwind of denial and whistleblower retaliation, on the part of the company.

[tweetthis status=”Whistleblowing is an early warning system for misconduct, wrongdoing or dangerous behaviours via @WhistlBlowrSays %23ethics” align=”right”]Whistleblowing is an early warning system for misconduct, wrongdoing or dangerous behaviours.[/tweetthis]

Many characteristics work together to make an individual a professional person – one of which is upholding standards of ethical behaviour. This means that a professional person does the right thing, and is prepared to challenge any behaviour in others that they perceive as falling short of the mark.

Whistleblowing is not disloyalty. It’s the opposite – it’s loyalty. Someone who blows the whistle can be that employee who’s the most loyal to the firm – the most energetic employee who’s serious about avoiding negative consequences facing their firm from regulators or the law.

Whistleblowing is an early warning system for misconduct, wrongdoing or dangerous behaviours.

From the Reddit feed:

Question: Did Halliburton have a whistleblower policy prior to this incident? If so, was it violated? Do most companies have such a policy?

Menendez’ answer: Yes indeed Halliburton had a whistleblower policy as required under Sarbanes-Oxley … it was required to be confidential and Halliburton’s policy promised confidentiality while at the same time discouraging anonymous complaints on the basis that if you didn’t provide your identity they may not be able to properly investigate your concern. This was absolutely central to my case and I relied on this policy but was Halliburton blatantly ignored its own policy and betrayed my trust.

First, anonymous complaints are completely investigatable. A strong case management system takes over the duty of an anonymous conversation between the complainant and management. Focus should not be on who blows the whistle. Focus should be on what is the issue at hand.

Second, what leaders do reflects the creation of the company culture within an organization. If management does not lead with integrity, how are employees supposed to follow?

It’s worth noting here that KBR, which used to be a unit of Halliburton attempted to silence a whistleblower and was just charged by the SEC with trying to write overly restrictive confidentiality agreements aimed at discouraged whistleblowing.

You can’t shut whistleblowers up! According to whistleblower protection Rule 21F-17 under the Dodd-Frank Act, a company can’t use restrictive language in confidentiality agreements that could put a stop to blowing the whistle in that company.

While legislation now forces many companies to put whistleblower programs into place, how companies use the programs determines whether they will be successful or not. Getting employees to actually speak up and report when they see signs of wrongdoing can be hard. Many times if wrongdoing is happening in the workplace, there are employees who know it’s happening. Yet perhaps they don’t have confidence, courage, or incentive to speak up. It’s hard to blame them when we’ve seen how devastating repercussions for whistleblowers can be.

Organizations Do Exist That Take Whistleblowing Seriously

Organizations who have taken the time to implement an ethics reporting system have done so because they are serious about protecting their employees and business. So it’s in the best interest for organizations to encourage employees to report wrongdoing internally and do it anonymously, and to work towards building a culture where employees feel comfortable about speaking up.

Investigate all complaints to determine whether they warrant further investigation or not. Guard against retaliation and ensure employees feel confident that they will be supported for raising concerns about workplace misconduct and not end up in trouble for doing the right thing. Promote your whistleblower program by training employees regularly, having lunch and learns, and providing personal materials they can keep with them to reference anytime they need to blow the whistle.

“Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for a whistleblower to prevail. There needs to be more protections and there simply needs to be a more balanced playing field. It shouldn’t take 9 years and hundreds of thousands to even have a remote chance of prevailing”
Anthony Menendez – Whistleblower

A hotline is where employees can come forward anonymously to report any wrongdoing or perceived fraud and can give organizations early disclosure on issues and concerns that can be investigated and remedied before the media takes things to the next level, thereby protecting the organization’s reputation – so where’s the issue with that?

Implement an ethics hotline. Encourage integrity, transparency & accountability.

eBook: 7 Reasons to Implement a Whistleblower Hotline